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Indonesian Presidential Appointments Reflect Commitment to Reform

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (File)

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (File)

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono recently selected a commander of the military forces, and will soon name a new attorney general. Political analysts say these appointments will indicate how forcefully the president intends to pursue military reforms and anti-corruption investigations.

Job rotation in military reinforced

By appointing Navy Admiral Agus Suhartono as head of the Indonesian armed forces, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is following a relatively new practice of rotating the job among the chiefs of the navy, army and air force.

The tradition began after the fall of Indonesia's military strongman Suharto - and an era in which the army was a dominant, oppressive and overtly corrupt force, directly involved in politics and business.

Political commentator Wimar Witoelar says he is not surprised that the president, who is a former army general, would choose to reinforce this practice.

"President Yudhoyono, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, is nothing but [if] not a follower of procedure and precedent. So he does not want to change the customary tradition of rotating the head of the armed forces," said Witoelar.

Defense analyst Alexandra Retno Wulan with the Center for Strategic and International Studies also thinks this is a symbolic act that emphasizes a commitment to military reform.

Unlike the army, the navy has not been associated with allegations of human rights abuses. And the selection of Suhartono, she says, focuses the armed forces on protecting the borders of a nation made up of thousands of islands.

"As a person I think he is a good military person. And secondly he is coming from the navy and so this is in line with the whole strategy, defense strategy for Indonesia that we need to build a more strong navy and maritime power," she said.

Fighting corruption

Mr. Yudhoyono also must choose a new attorney general, a selection that some groups say will show his commitment to fighting corruption.

The Constitutional Court removed the previous attorney general when it ruled he was appointed during the president's first term and was never formally reappointed at the start of his second term last year. The ruling came as a result of a complaint by a former minister who was under investigation for graft.

The president is said to be considering several candidates for job, including career prosecutors, as well as some prominent figures from human rights and anti-corruption organizations. Mr. Yudhoyono has ruled out naming a political partisan to be the nation's top law enforcement official.


But Danangn Widoyoko with Indonesia Corruption Watch is concerned that in his final term, the president may feel pressured to pay back political supporters

"During the campaign he promised to the people to reduce corruption but at the same time he has a lot of friends and allies that support him, that support SBY to be president. Then it is like a dilemma because some of his supporters also need the protection in terms of the corruption cases," said Widoyoko.

But Witoelar says President Yudhoyono will not sacrifice his reputation and ambitions beyond the presidency for political expediency.

"My feeling is that he will try to make a good name for himself and legacy because he has international consciousness and we know that he has potential to perform on the international scene far beyond the presidency. He will not give up that potential to be a world leader just to satisfy factional politics in this country," said Witoelar.

Witoelar says while some may question the pace of reform in Indonesia, the president has consistently moved forward in strengthening democratic institutions and creating a more open and competitive economy.