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NOVEMBER 8, 1999 VOL. 154 NO. 18


Bullit Marquez/AP
CUTTING LOOSE: Police in Jakarta celebrate General Wiranto's plea for better ties with the people.

Everybody Happy?
Indonesian President Wahid puts together a cabinet that is representative, but vastly untested
By NISID HAJARI

Abdurrahman Wahid doesn't call himself a holy man, but the new Indonesian President seemed to pull off a miracle last week. On Tuesday, Wahid met the challenge of picking a cabinet that reflects the diversity of the country and the 11th-hour coalition that voted him into power, while cleansing the slate of those associated with the worst excesses of previous regimes. His 35 appointees include individuals from each of the seven leading political parties, plus the military. Members of Indonesia's five major faiths are represented, as are all of its main islands. Those ministers who have government experience are generally considered reformers; those who do not are generally free of the taint of corruption.

The catholic nature of the selection, however, raises very real questions about whether effectiveness has been sacrificed for political expediency--whether a "National Unity" cabinet that pleases everyone is too good to be true. After years of unbending, one-man rule, the dilemma is ironic: Is there such a thing as sharing power too widely? "To be candid, this is more a case of accommodation than the right person for the right job," says environmental activist Erna Witoelar, who was named Minister of Settlement and Regional Development. "It remains to be seen how we are going to work as a team."

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The benefits and pitfalls of Wahid's inclusiveness show most strikingly in his economic team. Although heartened by the absence of ex-President Suharto's cronies among the appointees, analysts note the newcomers' lack of experience. Kwik Kian Gie, an aide to Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri, was tapped to oversee economic policy, even though he has made his name as a commentator and government critic. His colleague Laksamana Sukardi--a former banker named to head the Ministry of Investment and State Enterprises-- wins praise for his market-friendly philosophies more than any concrete macroeconomic credentials. The selections for the other two critical economic posts--Finance Minister Bambang Sudibyo and Trade Minister Jusuf Kalla--stand out mostly for their political connections.

Wahid's military appointments seem more likely to succeed. By naming General Wiranto as a coordinating minister for political and security affairs, Wahid grants a promotion that also takes troops away from Wiranto's command. The general's replacements--respected academic Juwono Sudarsono as Defense Minister and a Navy admiral as armed forces commander--reduce the army's dominance of the military as a whole without slighting its pride. Wahid did appoint two serving generals to the ministries of transportation and mining and energy--departments long milked for their healthy cash flow. But he chose the army's two leading, and presumably incorruptible, reformers--Agum Gumelar and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. "Those were positions very much craved by political parties," says Faisal Basri, secretary general of Rais's National Mandate Party. "The appointment of those generals shut them up."

Wahid sent a message about his priorities by creating new ministries for human rights and regional autonomy, even though the responsibilities of the first could overlap with the National Human Rights Commission and those of the second were already subsumed under the Ministry of Home Affairs. Similarly, even though he personally does not favor jailing Suharto for corruption, Wahid was careful to note that new Attorney General Marzuki Darusman would reopen the investigation into allegations that the ex-dictator enriched himself illegally.

Wahid's eclectic cabinet could be read either as an example of political payback or as an attempt to give a broad range of Indonesians the feeling that they have a stake in his administration. Kwik's ethnic Chinese background, for instance, could have as great an impact on the sentiment of wealthy Chinese entrepreneurs who moved much of their capital offshore as any specific policies he may implement. "I predict that within the next six months we will see a significant return of capital," says Sudamek Sunyoto, deputy chairman of the Chinese Indonesian Association.

But Wahid's appointees will quickly face challenges that could expose their inexperience. "Alwi Shihab may speak English and Arabic very well," a political analyst says of the urbane new Foreign Minister, a former professor of comparative religion at Harvard. "But I doubt knows anything about foreign relations." Many echo the fear that Wahid, in trying to be all things to all people, has put the wrong people in the wrong places--a government hack in charge of labor, a general with no mining background in charge of mines, an engineer with mining expertise in charge of transmigration. Says Witoelar: "The President expects that the new people will learn by doing."

Wahid's attempts to spread responsibility around to more groups could actually have the opposite effect. "The success of the cabinet depends on the vision of the President," says Sarwono Kusumaatmadja, who heads the new Ministry of Maritime Exploration. Not only will Wahid have to keep his disparate ministers focused on a unified policy, he will very likely have to intervene to resolve disputes among those with overlapping responsibilities. Putting such a broad-based slate together all but guarantees that this won't be the last miracle Wahid is asked to perform.

Reported by Zamira Loebis and Jason Tedjasukmana/Jakarta

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