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Indonesia’s New Cabinet Draws Mixed Reviews

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, front row, center, and his deputy Jusuf Kalla, front row, second right, pose with the newly appointed cabinet ministers after their the inauguration ceremony at the presidential palace in Jakarta, Indonesia, Oct. 27, 2014

Since the beginning of his political career, former small-town mayor and now President Joko Widodo has worked hard to separate himself from Indonesia’s political pack. In his first week in office the new president has sought to build on this unique political identity.

In a country known for its rampant corruption Widodo took the unprecedented move of having his Cabinet picks vetted by the national anti-graft body. That process led to continued delays, resulting in eight ministerial candidates axed from the initial lineup.

After a week of intense speculation, Widodo’s 34 new ministers in his so-called "Working Cabinet" were announced Sunday afternoon and inaugurated in a televised ceremony at the State Palace on Monday.

Ministers took the oath of office, pledging to follow the law and reject bribes.

Diversity in Cabinet

The Cabinet is a mixed bag of technocrats, business people and a few admired reformers, what Keith Loveard, a risk analyst from Concorde Consulting, described as a “wait and see” Cabinet.

“The tone of the Cabinet, certainly there are some elite members there and there are some people with questionable human rights backgrounds, as one would expect in Indonesia, but there is also this new blood as it were, a new spirit of entrepreneurial talent," Loveard said.

The Cabinet includes several entrepreneurs, including airline owner Susi Pudjiastuti, who, while successful in business, are so far unproven in government.

Widodo, a former furniture entrepreneur, has promised to reform the bureaucracy, streamline red tape and target an economic growth rate of 7 percent in Southeast Asia’s largest economy.

A newly created coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs is also expected to help realize the president’s much touted vision to transform Indonesia into a ‘"lobal maritime axis."

Among the Cabinet picks that have garnered the most praise is Pratikino, the rector of Gadjah Mada University, who is the choice for State Secretary, and Anies Baswedan, the reform-minded rector of Paramadina University, a key adviser to Widodo during his campaign, who will be the Minister of Primary and Secondary Education.

Retno Lestari Priansari Marsudi, a respected career diplomat, has been named foreign minister, the first Indonesian woman to assume the position. Marsudi, a former ambassador to the Netherlands, Iceland and Norway, is one of eight women in the new administration, also a record for Indonesia.

However, analysts have criticized the number of political appointments among the Cabinet, particularly of figures close to Megawati Sukarnoputri, the chairwoman of Widodo's PDI-P party.

Role in appointments?

Siti Zuhro, an analyst from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), said the Cabinet lineup indicates that Widodo, widely known by his nickname Jokowi, is not entirely independent.

"I think there is no question about the role of Madame Megawati Sukarnoputri, that she played an important role in appointing and recruiting the candidates," Zuhro said.

"Jokowi has the authority to choose his ministers, but he feels he has to ask Megawati to agree or disagree. ... Jokowi cannot decide without asking for permission without Megawati," Zuhro said.

Throughout his campaign and post election, Widodo consistently maintained that he would not trade ministerial positions for political support.

Yet a handful of elites in his party have been awarded coveted positions, including Megawati’s daughter, Puan Mahrani, who will oversee one of four coordinating ministries, and Ryamizard Ryacudu, a former general with a questionable human rights record, who is now the defense minister.

Rini Soemarno, a so-called Megawati confidante and former trade minister, has also been named the next state-owned enterprises minister.

Analysts said these appointments reflect an inevitable pragmatism but inhibit Widodo's effort to generate excitement about his government.

Of 34 ministers in the Widodo Cabinet, 21 are either connected to a party or linked to senior party officials.