Tue, 08 Aug 2000

President confirms plan to reshuffle his Cabinet

JAKARTA (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid gave his strongest signal yet on Monday that he plans to take a backseat role after he reshuffles his Cabinet in the not too distant future.

In off-the-cuff remarks to the People's Consultative Assembly, the President said he would concentrate more on the "little details" of foreign affairs, with the help of his foreign minister.

Someone else would take charge of the technical details of domestic affairs, he said in introductory remarks to a progress report of his first 10 months in office.

His statement came amid growing suggestions that the nearly- blind President should appoint a first minister to manage the day-to-day affairs of the state.

"In time, we will reshuffle the Cabinet. That entails a division of work," he said, adding: "I have not thought about who will be replaced and the direction of the reshuffle."

With the President coming under a lot of criticism for the lackluster performance of his administration, many analysts believe that reshuffling his rainbow coalition Cabinet could go a long way in appeasing his political detractors.

There has been a wide-ranging debate as to whether the President, given that his health is weak, should delegate more authority to Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri or appoint a first minister.

Speculation about the candidate for the job of first minister has focused on one name only: Army Lt. Gen. (ret) Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who is the minister of mines and energy and the man who led the team in charge of putting together the President's progress report.

Susilo, however, professed ignorance when asked about the speculation on Monday.

"I don't know anything about this plan. It does not have any connection at all to my position as the coordinator of the presidential speech," Susilo was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Finance and Industry Kwik Kian Gie said he was ready to leave his Cabinet post if the President asked.

"I am ready, because I always prefer to be a politician. I have dedicated the last 30 years of my life to the political field," Kwik, a senior executive of the Indonesia Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), told journalists.

Minister of Defense Juwono Sudarsono said the Cabinet should ideally comprise 25 ministers instead of 35 at present.

State Minister of the Empowerment of Women Khofifah Indar Parawansa, considered to be a member of the President's inner circle, said the President had not decided about the size of the Cabinet.

"Gus Dur will decide on the reshuffle after Aug. 18 (when the MPR meeting ends). He has not decided how he is going to do it," she told The Jakarta Post.

Attorney General Marzuki Darusman said the decision to reshuffle the Cabinet came as a response to public pressure and was not a genuine attempt to strengthen the administration's performance.

"Personally I don't see the importance of a reshuffle," he said.

The current Cabinet was virtually imposed on the President. It reflects a compromise between the major political factions, including the military, of the MPR that elected him in October.

The President is now caught in another tug of war: One option open to him is to form a smaller coalition Cabinet involving his own small National Awakening Party (PKB) and Megawati's PDI Perjuangan; a second is for another inclusive broader coalition that includes House Speaker Akbar Tandjung's Golkar Party and MPR Speaker Amien Rais' National Mandate Party (PAN).

Akbar, whose party last month said it was ready to leave the Cabinet and play an opposition role in the House, warned that while the President had the constitutional prerogative to select his Cabinet, he must not ignore political realities.

Professionalism and competence were not the only requirements when selecting ministers, he said, adding that political support was also crucial in ensuring the Cabinet's stability.

"A candidate's competence is one condition. It's more ideal if the candidate also has strong political support. The Cabinet will then enjoy strong support," Akbar said.

PDI Perjuangan legislators rejected the idea of appointing a first minister, saying it was a violation of the Constitution.

Chairman of PDI Perjuangan faction at the House Arifin Panigoro predicted legal difficulties if the President went ahead with the idea because a first minister would also trample on the feet of the vice president. "It is not a matter of limiting the vice president's role; it is also not easy to regulate it," Arifin said.

PDI Perjuangan secretary-general Sucipto rejected the very idea of a Cabinet reshuffle, saying it was not the best answer to Indonesia's problems.

"The chief problem of the government is its lack of consistency," Sucipto said. (dja/prb/jun/rms/nvn)