Tuesday, May 05, 2009
  Sri Mulyani for Vice President?

SBY is a virtual shoe in to be re-elected as Indonesia's President on July 8th.

His current Vice President, Jusuf Kalla has, to general derision, announced his candidacy. His choice of Gen.(ret) Wiranto as VP running mate is surprising given that Wiranto was Golkar's presidential candidate in 2004, and came in a poor third. That the nomination of this pairing has come from the Golkar leadership, rather than the lower echelons, is threatening to tear apart Suharto's former ruling élite 'functional grouping'. Their regional groups may even nominate another pairing of, say Akbar Tanjung, Kalla's predecessor as Golkar chairman, and Pak An Other.

And that's no bad thing. For all their posturing, the electorate has clearly spoken: they want a more complete break from the past excesses of the Suharto era which Golkar remains closely identified with.

The same goes for Megawati Soekarnoputri who is also tainted for having failed to adopt reformasi when she was SBY's predecessor and for continuing to rely on her family name as a vote catcher. That she could pick Gen.(ret) Prabowo, who is unlikely to be given a visa to the USA because of his past sins as an active anti-human rights activist, is not going to go down well either, except among a minority who've been swayed by his expensive electoral campign which ironically suggests that he is a reformed character and the champion of the poor.

Prabowo's Theme Song

Time is moving on
You and me
You and me
Suffering is gone
You are free
You are free

I'm no longer who I was
No longer who you thought I was
I know I let you down
Those days are over now

I'm not afraid of nothing
I'm not afraid of anyone
I'm not afraid of losing myself
There ain't no self to lose
I'm not afraid

When you feel you're strong
You are free
You are free
Adapted fr.Joseph Arthur - You Are Free fr. Nuclear Daydream (2006)

Well, that's enough about the no hopers.

What the Indonesian public wants to know is who will replace Kalla as VP. The criteria are simple: SBY wants somebody who would be easy to get along with and would support his agenda and the public want somebody relatively untainted by links to the Suharto era, someone who is seen to be clean and honest, and can relate to public aspirations, which are predominantly to do with economic security.

Partai Demokrat has given SBY freedom to choose his running mate, but, as can be expected, there is much speculation about suitable choices.

The one shining light in SBY's administration has been Sri Mulyani Indrawati, initially as Minister of Finance and latterly as (Acting) Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy.

She brings to her post an impressive background. She is a post-graduate of U.C. Berkeley, which is a reminder of the 'Berkeley mafia', a group of neo-liberal, US educated economists who Suharto recruited early on to put to rights the Indonesian economy which Soekarno had left in tatters.

Before pursuing a political career, which began when she was short-lived President Gus Dur's economic adviser, 'Ani' was a commissioner for PT Unilever and in 2001-2, she was the independent commissioner at listed automotive giant PT Astra International Tbk., both major conglomerates in Indonesia. Suharto's Cendana Clan had forcibly taken control of the well-managed holding company PT Astra International from from the Soeryadjaja family in early 1994, and his golfing buddy, Bob Hasan, later imprisoned for all kinds of financial malfeasance, was the director, thus enabling the export of Land Rovers to the military dictatorship (SLORC) in Burma.

Following her stint the company is now respected, and she then went off to the USA to become the International Monetary Fund's executive director for East Asia and Pacific, until she was summoned by SBY to join his government as Minister for Development Planning.

Amid the tragedy of the Aceh Tsunami, she saw the opportunity to rebuild not only infrastructure but institutions. Her ally, Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, another on Jakarta's short list of notoriously clean ministers, was put in charge of Aceh reconstruction, and revolutionised the system by appointing a small staff, paying them something like private sector wages, and insisting that all accounts must go to the Finance Ministry to reduce the scope for corruption.

Soon Sri Mulyani was Finance Minister, tackling tax reform, introducing a new foreign investment law, reforming state finances to make them more transparent, reducing fuel subsidies - and tackling corruption. For two years in a row she has been named Finance Minister of the Year by specialist magazines: Euromoney (2006) and The Banker (2007).

When heads rolled recently at Bank Indonesia - after the revelation that it had paid $3.7 million of state funds in 2003-04 in bribes to MPs to pass new banking laws - chief economics minister Boediono took charge of the central bank, and Sri Mulyani took on his job as well as her own.

For the past four years, Sri Mulyani has gained much kudos for her handling of the economy and for her attempts at reforming the bureaucracy.

Mulyani has helped dismantle the financial architecture of the crony capitalism built by strongman Suharto before his 32-year reign ended in 1998. She has pressed hard to slash debt, both public and private; pushed through a rollback of budget-busting fuel subsidies; and overseen sweeping reforms of the customs and tax authorities - positioning Indonesia to post the world's best (or at least the least bad) emerging-market growth story in 2009.

Jakartass is not an advocate of market forces, which are inherently unfair. However, for her seemingly lone efforts to reform corrupt bureaucracies she desrves the utmost praise. Also, she is not someone to kowtow to well-connected business interests (including Jusuf Kalla).

So Sri Mulyani is my pick to be groomed as SBY's successor as president. Whether she should become his next VP is a matter of conjecture. If she is given the major task of heading up a task force committed to bureaucratic reform then I can't think of anyone better.

However, in the words of frequent commentator Miko, if SBY wants some nice harmless neutral guy for VP who can do the necessaries when Prince Charles comes to visit, then Sri should be allowed to get on with her much more important work.


4:00 pm
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