Bambang’s 5 wise men


Inner circle of advisers who engineered his rise to power now slated for key roles in government.

Ex-Indonesian ambassador to Russia Rachmat Witoelar (above, right)
Lt-Gen Sudi Silalahi, Mr Bambang’s former secretary (above, left)
US-trained economist Joyo Winoto
Former PDI-P official Heru Lelono
Former PDI stalwart Suko Sudarso

Former general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono owes his rise to Indonesia’s highest office to five men.

They include former Indonesian ambassador to Russia Rachmat Witoelar, economist Joyo Winoto and two former stalwarts of the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) – Mr Heru Lelono and Mr Suko Sudarso.

Also on the list is Lieutenant-General Sudi Silalahi, who served as secretary to Mr Bambang when he was the security czar in the Megawati government.

Together, they form an inner circle that began charting a strategy for Mr Bambang as far back as two years ago that will now lead to the Merdeka palace next month.

All five are likely to play key roles in running his administration, with some widely tipped to be in the Cabinet.

Insiders disclose that Lt-Gen Sudi might be offered the powerful position of State Secretary or security czar.

Dr Joyo is slated to head the National Planning Board, a key post that will oversee economic development, while Mr Rachmat may be given the Foreign Affairs portfolio.

A well-placed source in the Bambang election team told The Straits Times: ‘They form the first ring of advisers around Bambang.

‘The others in his camp are not as significant as this group. They were the ones who lobbied behind the scenes and drew up the plans for him to win the presidency.’

Of the group, Mr Heru, 49, was instrumental in paving the way for Mr Bambang’s entry into politics.

The former deputy secretary of the PDI-P’s research wing has known the retired general since 1998 when he was territorial chief in the armed forces.

‘I had a sense then that Pak Bambang was destined for greater things. He was a natural leader,’ he told The Straits Times.

It was Mr Heru who acted as middleman in arranging a meeting between Mr Bambang and PDI-P chairman Megawati Sukarnoputri, whom he was also close to.

Later, he worked behind the scenes to push the general to nominate himself for the vice-presidency in 2001.

At the same time, he lobbied Ms Megawati’s husband Taufik Kiemas to get the PDI-P to support Mr Bambang. It did not happen as the Megawati camp went with Mr Hamzah Haz.

But he was critical in shaping those formative years for Mr Bambang and, through the years, has grown close to Mr Bambang.

Sources disclose that he will be appointed in the palace as a senior aide.

Mr Suko is the other PDI-P link. Having also met Mr Bambang in the late 1990s, he was another important channel to the country’s then largest party in parliament.

He was seen as ‘the operator’ who could liaise with members of the PDI-P and other parties for their support.

Some believe that he is unlikely to secure a Cabinet appointment but will continue to play the critical role of dealing with a potentially hostile parliament, where Golkar and the PDI-P are lining up in opposition against Mr Bambang.

The 63-year-old Rachmat, who once served as Golkar secretary-general, will be the point man in dealings with Indonesia’s biggest party in parliament.

But he is known more for matchmaking Mr Bambang and his running mate, Mr Jusuf Kalla.

He drew up a list of prospective candidates that comprised Muslim scholar Nurcholish Madjid, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) chairman Hasyim Muzadi, business tycoon Aburizal Bakrie and Mr Jusuf.

He told The Straits Times: ‘It was such a natural fit. We had in the two leaders a very saleable commodity to the Indonesian electorate.’

According to the Tempo weekly, Mr Rachmat first met Mr Bambang in 1993 when the career diplomat was envoy to Russia. Mr Bambang was then head of the UN elections monitoring contingency for Bosnia Herzegovina.

The young military officer often visited the Indonesian Embassy in Moscow to discuss developments there with Mr Rachmat.

‘Since that time, I have developed a close rapport with him,’ he said.

It grew closer when Mr Rachmat, disillusioned by the Megawati administration, initiated a plan in 2002 to bring him to power.

Another key political architect is Dr Joyo, executive director of the Brighten Institute, an economic think-tank.

The US-trained economist was charged with building up a network of NGOs and activists throughout Indonesia for Mr Bambang to mount a challenge for the presidency.

He revealed in an interview: ‘We began planning for his presidency two years ago. Everything was well thought out and crafted so that Pak Bambang would win it.’

In fact, Dr Joyo has even prepared a confidential manual that outlines Mr Bambang’s political and economic strategies before the polls and after – for the next five years.

Lt-Gen Sudi is a long-time friend of the four-star general. They first met as military cadets more than 30 years ago.

He is important to Mr Bambang mainly because of his links to the Muslim camp.

Drawing on his contacts when he was East Java military commander, Lt-Gen Sudi was used as one of the key contacts with the 40-million-strong NU.

He played a big role in winning NU support for Mr Bambang by attending a meeting of key clerics in East Java two weeks before the run-off polls.

Given his background in socio-political affairs in the military and his network to the vast territorial command structure, he was also important in gathering intelligence in the election run-up.

His most significant role, however, was in triggering Mr Bambang’s entry into the presidential race in March, just before the general election.

His public criticism of how the palace shut out Mr Bambang from policy-making triggered a chain of events that catapulted the general to the fore of Indonesian politics.

The Bambang team has altogether some 1,000 members. But it is these five men who stuck it out from the start – and are likely to remain in positions of influence.

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