Mixed reactions to Habibie’s Cabinet

The line-up drops the former leader’s daughter and a golfing buddy. It pleases the markets and World Bank, but some say it has the Suharto stamp.

INDONESIA’S new President, Dr B. J. Habibie, vowing to meet calls for reform, yesterday named a broad-based Cabinet which excluded his predecessor’s eldest daughter and a close family friend.

But while disarming critics of nepotism by firing Mrs Siti “Tutut” Hardiyanti Rukamana and former President Suharto’s golfing buddy, Mr Mohamad “Bob” Hasan, he retained almost half of the old guard in the new 36-member line-up.

Among those he retained was economics tsar Ginandjar Kartasasmita, who is known to have good relations with the International Monetary Fund, which has put together a rescue package to help the country tackle its economic crisis.

Barely 24 hours after taking over the country’s number one post from Mr Suharto, who resigned after three decades in power, Dr Habibie said that the new Cabinet would be charged primarily with the task of “reform and development”.

“This Cabinet will help lift the political, social and economic life of our nation in the era of globalisation,” the 61-year-old leader said in a live television broadcast from the presidential palace.

His announcement saw the markets responding positively.

In his speech, Dr Habibie also said that the central bank governor would be independent and free from political interference.

The World Bank said that it welcomed the new economic team and would work with the government immediately, to restoreconfidence in a country facing its worst crisis in three decades.

Political opponents responded differently to the revamped Cabinet.

Government critic and Muslim leader Amien Rais said that his feelings were “neutral”, but predicted that Dr Habibie would not last a full term in office.

Several students still occupying the parliament grounds also responded negatively – clashes broke out between them and
student supporters of Indonesia’s new leader yesterday.

Speaking confidently from a podium in the red-carpeted palace hall, the German-trained engineer and Suharto loyalist madea pitch for clean government to appease his sceptics.

”We will develop a government free from inefficiency and corruption, collusion and nepotistic practices,” he said.

As proof of this, he axed Interior Minister Raden Hartono and Finance Minister Fuad Bawazier, both allies of Mrs Rukmana and the Suharto family, besides the former President’s daughter and golfing buddy.

He pledged to “reflect the various elements of socio-political forces” by including the opposition United Development Party and the Indonesian Democratic Party in the Cabinet.

The Food Affairs portfolio went to Mr A. M. Saefuddin, while the Investment Ministry went to Mr Hamzah Haz, both from the UDP. The Indonesian Democratic Party’s Panagian Siregar was made Environment Minister.

Academics and members of non-governmental organisations were also roped in.

Dr Adi Sasono, secretary-general of the Muslim Intellectuals Association (Icmi) and an ally of Dr Habibie, for example, was appointed Minister for Small and Medium-sized Cooperatives.

The military managed to consolidate its influence in the new line-up by holding key posts, though the number of senior officers remained roughly the same.

This prompted some analysts to say that this would be a relief for political reformers looking to reduce the military’s role in politics.

General Wiranto, the Defence Minister, who played a key role in the handover of power and who stood by the new President during the announcement, was retained as Abri chief.

The others are nearly all Habibie allies and Suharto stalwarts – General Feisal Tanjung, who was appointed again as Coordinating Minister for Security and Political Affairs, and Lieutenant-General Yunus Yosfiah as Information Minister.

Observers here said that the “mixed” Cabinet line-up reflected Dr Habibie’s concern to “strike a balance between different priorities”, which could backfire as he attempts to show critics his sincerity about reforms.

Noted Mr Umar Juoro, an Icmi member: “The President is retaining elements from the old government for continuity with Suharto policies, and bringing in others to satisfy pro-reformers.”

Observers here point to contradictions in the new President’s public commitment to fight corruption and nepotism and his ability to do so.

Said Mr Marzuki Darusman of the National Human Rights Commission: “This Cabinet has Suharto written all over it and glosses over the fundamental issue of political change.”

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