Wed, 05 Jan 2000

A Cabinet reshuffle?

Grievances about the ineffectiveness of President Abdurrahman Wahid's two-month-old administration have been growing louder lately.

There has been no indignation on the public's part concerning the complaints, because the public's initial expectations of the government -- which was formed in the midst of the crippling economic crisis and the threat of national disintegration, and which was seen as being the first legitimate government the country had ever had -- have been dashed.

During his administration's two months of existence, Abdurrahman has welcomed criticism and appealed for foreign support by visiting many parts of the globe. But his administration's activities have failed to boost the people's optimism, and has in most likelihood confused most.

A closer look at the situation will reveal that the administration was in trouble right at conception. Dubbed the National Unity Cabinet, it was born deformed. Its birth was assisted by at least four midwives, comprising Abdurrahman and Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri, People's Consultative Assembly Speaker Amien Rais and former military commander Gen. Wiranto. These people of course have different interests and philosophies. Individual ministers were selected from political parties with representatives in the House of Representatives. Each party played a role in Abdurrahman's election as president.

Another feature of the Cabinet's formation was that some of the ministers were picked in an effort to placate restive provinces. By choosing this method, the midwives ignored the standard tradition of choosing ministers who the President considered knowledgeable and trustworthy, as well as whether they were capable of doing their jobs and forging cooperation.

These days it is discouraging for the public to witness the administration's inability to address the devastating problems left by the Soeharto regime and how the ministers seem unable, or unwilling, to cooperate with each other. Some people have said that Gus Dur, as the President is popularly called, has an uncommon style but tragically lacks a deep sense of crisis and of priorities.

In this situation, many people argue that a Cabinet shuffle is imperative. In its present form, the Cabinet is no answer to Indonesia's problems. It definitely needs an overhaul.

Ironically, rumors doing the rounds about a Cabinet reshuffle are apparently based on snippets coming from the palace. Can the presidential office spread gossip? It is possible since it seems to have become part of the game. And remember that despite the fast democratization drive, rumors still replace modern communication here. And it is Gus Dur's style to generate public speculation before he does something.

If hearing is believing, a Cabinet reshuffle will take place after the Muslim post-fasting holiday of Idul Fitri, which is this coming weekend. In this era of reform, nine ministers are under scrutiny, and foremost among them is Coordinating Minister for Political Affairs and Security Gen. Wiranto, who clearly belongs to the previous despotic regime.

When Gus Dur really sits down to shake up his Cabinet, he should reflect and realize that he also needs to change his style before it is too late. Otherwise he may end up becoming his own worst enemy.

After that he can enjoy the freedom to select the figures he knows and trusts best and with whom he shares the same vision. He will also have to forget about rewarding the groupings who helped him become president, because such underhanded dealings belong to the past.

A best case scenario would be one in which the people could understand that the Cabinet reserved seats only for members of Abdurrahman's National Awakening Party (PKB), Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle and perhaps veteran kingmaker Amien Rias' National Mandate Party (PAN). Golkar, Soeharto's former political tool, and other parties should not bury their heads in the sand but should take the initiative by forging a healthy opposition group to prove that democracy is really at work here.