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Politicians will dominate

Straits Times - July 28, 2001

Marianne Kearney, Jakarta – Politicians will dominate the new Indonesian Cabinet. Their empowering will be a form of payback for the support they gave President Megawati Sukarnoputri during the impeachment process against Mr Abdurrahman Wahid.

Despite calls for seasoned professionals to be included among the Cabinet ranks to help resolve Indonesia's myriad problems, legislators and political analysts contacted yesterday believe Cabinet posts will be doled out to politicians, particularly those from Golkar and the coalition of Muslim parties.

Leaders from Ms Megawati's own Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) and other politicians say they favour a mix of talent in the Cabinet. "We have to consider political groups but also the aspect of professionalism," PDI-P secretary-general Sutjipto said.

He cited former economics coordinating minister Kwik Gian Gie as someone who had both the political and professional qualifications to serve. "Madame Megawati is drawing up the list herself, with the assistance of one or two people, including myself," he said. Former banker and minister Laksamana Sukardi, another PDI-P executive, is also believed to be involved in the process.

Even so, the mix is likely to favour politicians – some of whom will have had professional experience – as Ms Megawati has to ensure that she continues to enjoy support from the major parties which helped her to power.

Golkar, whose leader Akbar Tandjung lost to Mr Hamzah in the vice presidential race, has indicated that it expects to be included in the new government. Indeed, just after Mr Hamzah had been voted in on Thursday, Mr Akbar Tandjung sent an indirect message to President Megawati. "I hope there will be no repeat of mistakes that could result in the holding of another special session and another change of leadership," he told a local television reporter.

But party legislator Syamsul Mu'arif denied that Golkar had demanded a specific number of posts – although he did suggest that as the second largest party in Parliament it should receive more posts than smaller parties.

Political analysts contacted yesterday said that by including all major parties in the government, Ms Megawati would be creating an awkward Rainbow coalition Cabinet. The danger could be that ministers would end up pushing party policy rather than implementing agreed government policy – something that characterised Mr Abdurrahman's first Cabinet.

PDI-P and even Golkar legislators nevertheless believe that some key coordinating roles in Cabinet, especially economic posts, could end up in the hands of professionals.

Mr Sutjipto agreed that it was "most important" that such positions be given to professionals and that posts such as Foreign Affairs, and Trade and Industry Minister could be doled out to party members.

Analysts said the new Cabinet needed committed and far-sighted ministers who were willing to make difficult decisions quickly. They will have to stem the economic downturn, reduce rampant corruption and introduce law and order before the expiry of a three-month honeymoon period that investors have given the new government.

But fears remain that the reality of political accommodation in the selection of new Cabinet members could prevent this from happening.