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Few Surprises, Little Excitement as Indonesian President Sets New Cabinet

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Indonesia's new Cabinet contains a mix of old and new faces, but no surprises. Some political analysts question whether the government's new leaders will be able to achieve the reforms promised by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who was elected to a second term in July.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's announcement of his new Cabinet caused little stir in Indonesia.

Business leaders praised his decision to retain economic ministers from his first administration, including Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati and Trade Minister Mari Elka Pangestu. The appointment, for the first time, of a civilian head of the armed forces was also noted.

Over half are career politicians

But political analysts say, given his landslide victory in the presidential race, President Yudhoyono could have picked more experts to head his ministries. Of the 37 names, just more than half are career politicians.

Danang Widoyoko is the deputy coordinator of Indonesia Corruption Watch. He says President Yudhoyono formed a rainbow coalition, appealing to political parties by granting them Cabinet positions and undermining the potential for an effective opposition.

"By gathering all the political parties to join the Cabinet then the president will be very powerful," Widoyoko said. "All of the president's policies will be implemented directly or without significant control or scrutiny. We worried about the lack of opposition (because) then there will be no check and balance, there will be no government oversight from the parliament."

Expertise of some ministers questioned

Sunny Tanuwidjaja, an analyst with Indonesia's Center for Strategic and International Studies, is less concerned about the absence of an effective opposition but he questions the expertise of some of the ministers.

"SBY (Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono) has to accommodate the interests of the politicians if he wants to be effective in passing regulations and I think this is a good realistic mix for him," Tanuwidjaja said. "What I am a little bit concerned about is that a lot of politicians in the Cabinet have backgrounds that are not actually related to their fields."

Indonesia's new government has the comfort of assuming control of a nation with one of the best performing economies in the world this year. But many say the pace of reforms and growth must quicken in the next five years to reduce poverty.

Faster reforms desired

The fight against corruption has also slowed this year. Danang Widoyoko from Corruption Watch questions Mr. Yudhoyono's decision to appoint a politician, Patrialis Akbar, to lead the crucial Ministry of Law and Human Rights. Akbar failed to win a seat in the parliament this year and is not known for his defense of human rights.

"He was named as the minister because he is a member of the PAN party that supported the president, that is all," Widoyoko said. "Without any consideration for skill or competency or even track record in the field that he has to deal with."

Political commentator Wimar Witolear, whose brother served in the last Cabinet, praises the fact that none of the new members have records blighted by accusations of corruption or human rights abuses. As for their abilities, he says it is possible Mr. Yudhoyono has a strategy in mind.

"It is like watching a football team get assembled, and when they come on the field they do not exactly have the right players you want. But we believe the coach has something in mind so we will give them every benefit of the doubt and let them play and see what happens."

Some political analysts speculate Mr. Yudhoyono will embark on major infrastructure projects, creating an enduring legacy of his presidency.

Kuntoro Mangkusubroto has been charged with heading a new agency intended to accelerate the pace of reform and special projects. Mangkusubroto led Aceh's reconstruction agency following the devastating tsunami in 2004. His management of billions of dollars donated for the reconstruction effort has been widely praised.