JAKARTA - Indonesian President Joko Widodo installed 13 new cabinet ministers in his government Wednesday, including a former general accused of human rights abuses during the country's brutal occupation of East Timor in the 1990s.
Wiranto is taking on the portfolio of chief security minister from Luhut Pandjaitan, who was named chief minister for maritime affairs. Wiranto headed the military in 1999 when the army and paramilitary forces went on a bloody rampage when East Timor voted to become independent. He was indicted by a United Nations tribunal for crimes against humanity, but as yet to face trial.
Pandjaitan's new post comes as tensions in the Asia-Pacific region are rising over China's claims to much territory in the South China Sea.
Another major figure named to Widodo's new cabinet is Sri Mulyani Indrawati, a reformist and currently a managing director of the World Bank, who will serve as finance minister. Indrawati served in the post from 2005 to 2010, when she was praised for guiding Indonesia's economy through the 2008 global financial crisis.
Shakeup called self-serving
While Widodo issued a statement describing the changes as a practical necessity aimed at "strengthening the administration performance," some say the shakeup may be part of efforts to shore up his own political influence.
"Indonesia is facing difficult challenges so the president feels the need to reshuffle the cabinet ... [but] I believe the president in making his decision is still taking into consideration the interest of political parties," said Rahadi Tegu Wiratama, a Jakarta-based global affairs analyst, echoing concerns voiced Wednesday by Amnesty International.
‘Contempt for human rights’
"Gen. Wiranto is the chairman of the Hanura [People's Conscience] Party who supported Joko Widodo during his 2014 presidential campaign," the Britain-based human rights group said in press release responding to the cabinet reshuffle. "He ran unsuccessfully for president of Indonesia in 2004, and ran unsuccessfully for the vice presidency in 2009."
"Widodo's decision to make Gen. Wiranto Indonesia's most powerful security official a mere day after Indonesia ordered the execution of 14 death row prisoners shows contempt for human rights," the group said.
"This is adding insult to injury," said Josef Benedict, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for South East Asia and the Pacific. "A day after ordering a fresh round of executions, Jokowi has now decided to hand control of the country's security apparatus to someone who was indicted for crimes against humanity by a U.N.-sponsored tribunal."
Still, some Indonesians are optimistic about some of the new appointments.
"When I saw the names of the new ministers, especially in economic team, I'm quite optimistic," said Yudani, an employee for a privately held company in Jakarta. "Particularly with Sri Mulyani, who has experience as a former economic minister at the World Bank. I think that's useful ... to stabilize our economy."