Yudhoyono’s A’ team

The President-elect has picked his Cabinet, but protests from allies could still alter choices

A PROMINENT business tycoon, a former military commander and one of Indonesia’s top judges look set to be picked for the three key positions in a new administration being shaped by President-elect Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Mr Abu Rizal Bakrie, who founded the powerful Bakrie conglomerate, could be named the top economics minister heading a four-member team that comprises businessmen and technocrats.

The security czar’s post will go to retired admiral A.S. Widodo, who was the armed forces chief three years ago.

And Dr Yudhoyono, under pressure to fight rampant graft in the country, looks likely to appoint Mr Abdul Rahman Saleh, a Supreme Court judge, to fill the hot seat of attorney-general.

The appointments in the 34-member Cabinet that will be announced tomorrow, after the swearing-in ceremony of the new president, take place against a backdrop of fractious rivalry and allies jockeying for positions.

Already, cracks are emerging in Dr Yudhoyono’s coalition, with at least two Muslim-based parties questioning his choice of several ministerial candidates.

The Crescent Star Party (PBB) is lobbying behind the scenes for more seats, despite widespread speculation that its chairman and former justice minister Yusril Ihza Mahendra would be given the powerful state secretary’s post.

Members of the party argued that the PBB ‘deserved more positions’, given that it had supported Dr Yudhoyono all along.

Both the PBB and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) questioned the rationale for picking a Cabinet dominated by technocrats.

And the PKS, led by chairman Hidayat Nur Wahid who was appointed recently as the head of the National Assembly, threatened to withdraw its support for the incoming President.

They are upset that he will appoint an economic team that could lean heavily towards International Monetary Fund (IMF) policies and comprise ‘figures with legal problems’.

That appeared to be a pointed criticism of Mr Bakrie, 58, who might also not be too highly regarded by international lenders because of his company’s poor payment record in the past.

His team could include Mr Rachmat Gobel, another well-known businessman who owns a joint venture with Japanese electronics giant Matsushita, who is tipped to be industry minister.

Two other members of the economic team will be US-trained professionals with close links to the IMF and other international financial bodies.

One of them is respected economist Sri Mulyani, who was once director for Asia-Pacific in the IMF. She will be appointed finance minister.

The trade portfolio will go to economist Mari Pangestu, a former executive director of the Jakarta-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

Mr Gita Wirjawan, JP Morgan’s head in Indonesia, told The Straits Times: ‘If this is the team that SBY has selected, it will be one with comparative advantages.

‘He has brought together people with different assets. There are pluses and minuses. You just can’t please everyone.’

Some of the President-elect’s other appointments have generated less controversy.

Admiral Widodo, as top security minister, will oversee the war on terrorism and be one of the key members of the newly formed National Security Council.

There will be two other generals in the Cabinet.

Dr Yudhoyono’s long-time friend, retired three-star general Sudi Silalahi, is slated to be Cabinet secretary, and Mr Muhammad Ma’aruf, another former soldier, is expected to be interior minister.

The defence portfolio, however, is likely to go to a civilian.

Some observers are speculating that it could go to the current Indonesian ambassador to Britain, Dr Juwono Sudarsono, who has held the education and defence posts in previous administrations.

One of the most watched appointments is that of attorney-general and indications are that it could go to Supreme Court judge Saleh, who once headed the Legal Aid Bureau in Indonesia.

He is known most prominently for being the only judge in a five-men panel to have opposed the decision to allow Golkar chairman Akbar Tandjung to go free on graft charges.

Former AG Marzuki Darusman noted: ‘I think if he is given the authority by the President, he will do a lot to fight corruption.’

Senior aides revealed that Dr Yudhoyono had ‘more or less made up his mind on who he wants in his Cabinet’, but given the squabbling among those who back him, there could still be changes.

The President-elect pointed out over the weekend that he had checked with watchdog bodies and found his candidates to be eligible.

But yesterday, he appeared to be more cautious.

One of the potential ministers told The Straits Times: ‘SBY looked rather rattled especially by the reaction to his economic team. He is still pondering his options. So nothing is final.’

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