October 26, 2014
The new Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, has unveiled a cabinet including the country’s first female foreign minister, as well as political allies and experts in key economic posts.
Reaction was broadly positive to the appointment of Retno Marsudi, Indonesia’s ambassador to the Netherlands, as foreign minister. Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, said Retno “works hard and is firm and visionary”.
She was one of eight women in the cabinet in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation.
But analysts expressed disappointment that so many politicians had been chosen instead of professionals, saying it could weaken Widodo’s attempts to push through much-needed reforms in the world’s third-biggest democracy.
Widodo, the country’s first leader from outside the political and military elite, had pledged to pick experts in various fields.
But he came under strong pressure from parties that backed him at the July elections, and in the end agreed to give almost half of the 34 cabinet posts to political allies.
There was particular concern that figures close to Megawati Sukarnoputri, the head of Widodo’s party, featured prominently, adding to concerns the former president Sukarno may seek to interfere in policy-making.
“It’s cronyism,” Arbi Sanit, a political analyst at the University of Indonesia, told AFP. “I am disappointed and have no confidence in this new cabinet – the ministers are all weak.”
But the appointment of Bambang Brodjonegoro as the finance minister and Sofyan Djalil as the chief economics minister were welcomed, because they are seen as seasoned experts capable of invigorating the economy after a recent slowdown.
Sunday’s announcement was delayed by several days after Widodo asked the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) to vet the candidates and the commission raised concerns about several of them.
“We carried out the process of choosing ministers carefully and meticulously,” Widodo said, as he unveiled his cabinet during a ceremony at the state palace.
The government of Widodo’s predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, was hit by a string of corruption scandals that dented its popularity.
Since the downfall of the dictator Suharto in 1998 after three decades in power, it has been common practice in Indonesian politics for prospective leaders to promise cabinet posts to allies in exchange for support.
Widodo, 53, pledged to end backroom deal-making after beating the controversial ex-general Prabowo Subianto in the election.
But Megawati’s daughter, Puan Maharani, was named head of one of four powerful “co-ordinating ministries”, which oversee several other ministries.
A close Megawati confidant, Rini Soemarno, was named state-owned enterprises minister, while another figure close to her, former army chief of staff Ryamizard Ryacudu, was selected as the defence minister.
The co-ordinating ministry for maritime affairs, headed by Indroyono Soesilo, is new, reflecting Widodo’s ambition to make Indonesia a great maritime power through measures such as improving ports.