Wednesday, July 25, 2001

Indonesia MPs fight to get lucrative posts

Andreas Harsono
The Nation

The back-room horse-trading is in full swing as Megawati seeks to settle her cabinet

JAKARTA - Not more than 24 hours after dumping their president and installing his deputy, Indonesia's politicians are back doing what they have been notorious for since the ousting of Suharto: back-room deals and political manoeuvring.

This time around it is a no-holds-barred, barrack-room brawl to win cabinet seats and to fill the empty vice president's position.

Mahadi Sinambela, a legislator with the former ruling party Golkar, said in a talk show on Tuesday: "We made measurement figures to calculate power sharing. The president is measured at 15, a vice president is 10, a minister three, the military commander four and the attorney general four."

Sinambela explained that President Megawati Sukarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), which has the biggest number of seats in the parliament, but not a majority, has proportionally a "score of 44".

Since it already has the presidency, Sinambela said its total score is 44 minus 15, which equals 29. The number 29 means it should have only nine ministerial positions.

Sinambela's Golkar has the proportional score of 36. Golkar on Monday evening nominated its chairman Akbar Tanjung as the vice president. "Thirty-six minus 10 equals 26. Golkar should have eight ministers," Sinambela said.

Welcome to everyday Indonesian politics.

The newly installed president was initially scheduled to announce her new cabinet today, but members of the parliament are very likely to delay it.

They cannot calculate their cabinet seats without first electing the vice president.

"Some politicians have become so ambitious and impetuous. Their mentality, after all, is accumulating power," says Muhammad Budhyatna, a lecturer in communications at the University of Indonesia.

Critics say civilian politicians in Indonesia are not competent enough to lead the country out of the economic and political crisis and into a workable democracy after more than 30 years of being ruled by the authoritarian military-backed regime of president Suharto.

Salim Said, a political scientist who wrote The Genesis of Power on the Indonesian military, says the military is filling the vacuum created by weak civilian leadership and prolonged faction fighting involving ousted president Abdurrahman Wahid and the parliament.

"The armed forces are a political power now as civilians are fighting each other and the government cannot control the country," Salim was quoted by the International Herald Tribune as saying. "I think the people will come and ask the military to take over. That is what I am afraid of."

Indonesia's National Assembly, an enlargement of its 500-member parliament, dumped Wahid on Monday and elected Megawati in his place. Wahid was accused of erratic leadership, but he refused to attend the assembly to defend himself. He declared a state of emergency that prompted the assembly to immediately dismiss him.

Sidney Jones of the New York-based Human Rights Watch said: "The spectacularly poor performance of civilian politicians, legislators and president alike, is producing the very result that everyone wanted to avoid."

Megawati herself said she would like to compromise about the cabinet line up as long as she can choose her own economic ministers. She also does not mind who takes the vacant vice presidential seat.

Megawati is likely to pick old hands or technocrats who have good relations with the Washington-based International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. It indicates that she understands that Indonesia has no choice in trying to overcome its economic difficulties but to cooperate with the financial institutions.

Many politicians, however, see the No 2 seat differently. It is not only a ceremonial position but also has the biggest chance of grabbing the presidential post should anything happen to Megawati.

Contenders include parliament speaker and Sinambela's boss Akbar Tanjung and Muslim-based United Development Party chairman Hamzah Haz. Dark-horse contenders are law professor Yusril Ihza Mahendra of the Muslim-based Moon Star Party and retired army general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

"My friends from Golkar are greedy," says Ali Marwan Hanan of the United Development Party.

"I'm not interested in calculating politics in such a way," says Faisal Baasir, a legislator and a supporter of Hamzah Haz.

Other anti-Golkar legislators charge that Megawati would be better advised to have Hamzah Haz as her deputy on the grounds that Tanjung is heavily associated with former president Suharto.

Megawati will be less popular if her deputy is a Golkar politician. Sinambela, however, defended his party, saying that whatever the public's opinion of Golkar, it had participated in the 1999 election and won 120 seats in the parliament. "We're legitimate. We asked Akbar to chase the seat because if we don't do it other elements of the party will split."

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