Young technocrats in Yudhoyono’s inner circle

Palace aides have one thing in common: loyalty to the President.

A LONG-TIME friend from the army and a group of young technocrats form the inner circle in Merdeka palace.

Mr Sudi Silalahi, a retired three-star general who served as secretary to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono when he was security czar in the last government, holds the powerful position of Cabinet Secretary and personal confidante on state matters.

Several others are in the corridors of power – among them, prominent TV talk-show host Andi Mallarangeng, who deals with the media, and career diplomat Dino Pati Djalal, who is Dr Yudhoyono’s foreign affairs spokesman.

The inner circle also includes academics M. Chatib Basri and Joyo Winoto who are Dr Yudhoyono’s informal economic advisers, his speech writer Munawar Fuad Nuh and private secretary Heru Lelono.

With the exception of Mr Heru, all of them are in their late 30s or early 40s – and several have doctorates.

The President has realised the value of getting in new blood. He has surrounded himself with young academics and technocrats in the palace.

One of them is Dr Andi, a US-trained political scientist.

He is now the public face of Dr Yudhoyono and deals with the media as his spokesman.

Popular with Indonesians for his good looks and charm, he used to host various programmes on the local Metro TV and emerged as Dr Yudhoyono’s backer after he announced his presidential candidacy in April.

Dr Dino, who has a doctorate in international relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science, is the President’s chief aide on all foreign matters.

He used to head the North American division in the Foreign Ministry, developing a close working relationship with Dr Yudhoyono as far back as three years ago when he began briefing him on political and security issues.

He has emerged as a key figure in the palace, advising the President on relations with Asean countries and the United States.

Some analysts see him as a rising star who could earn a Cabinet appointment in years to come.

Others in the inner circle include Dr Joyo and Dr Chatib, both of whom are economists.

Dr Joyo was initially tipped for a Cabinet appointment, but could now find himself in the palace together with Dr Chatib as economic advisers, though Dr Yudhoyono has yet to make a decision on their formal appointments.

Two other key people make up his team in the palace.

One is Nahdlatul Ulama youth leader Munawar Fuad Nuh, who is his leading speech writer.

The other is his private secretary Heru, who is a close family friend and former stalwart of the Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle.

Like the formation of the Cabinet, Dr Yudhoyono has had to contend with infighting and jostling for positions in the palace.

Interestingly, both Dr Andi and Dr Dino are holding high-profile appointments despite not having been in Dr Yudhoyono’s election campaign team.

This has emerged as a sore point among some loyalists who initially formed what was known as Team 11 and expected positions.

Team 11 was meant to be the core of a West Wing-style administration, but since the formation of the government, the President has dismantled this group quietly.

Political observer Arbi Sanit of the University of Indonesia noted: ‘There are old-timers and newcomers in the palace, but the one thing that binds this group is their loyalty to SBY. The President has chosen them based on his close personal ties, not through a rigorous selection process.

‘On paper, some of them look attractive, but the jury is still out on whether they are the best people to serve him.’

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