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  Issue No 37 Official Organ of LaborNet 29 October 1999  





Wahid’s New Team

By SBSI International Department

Indonesias new government is blemished by Suharto-era appointees but an advance for reform, says Indonesia's trade unions.

The Indonesian Prosperity Trade Union (SBSI) is abundantly hopeful that Indonesia's new government, led President Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) and Vice-president Megawati Sukarnoputri, will end Indonesia's 34 years of corrupt and authoritarian rule. Indeed, both leaders possess excellent democratic credentials and wide popular approbation.

Yet President Wahid's recently appointed cabinet, though an enormous advance over previous governments, includes many compromise appointments that imperil thepresidents promised reform agenda. The president and vice-president represent the first successful democratic coalition in national history.

The June 7, 1999 general election was a genuinely fair and free but failed to produce an outright winner. The popular vote was distributed across six major competing parties.

Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) gained the largest single shareof the vote, 34 per cent but was unable to translate that strong democratic sentiment into a coalition to win the presidency in the senate (MPR) on October 20. Abdurrahman Wahid, by contrast, founded the numerically smallerNational Awakening Party (PKB), but was able to form a wide coalition of support from the numerous Islamic parties and at the final moment from the former ruling party Golkar, when its candidate President B.J. Habibie failed to win a crucial confidence vote in the MPR.

President Wahid's triumph, however, did not come without appreciable concessions to the old power brokers. His hand-picked, 35-member cabinet, announced on October 26, is heavily biased towards the military (TNI),Golkar and regional representatives all of whom were key to securing his victory in the MPR on October 20. Indeed, most Indonesian democrats are disappointed with the composition of the cabinet.

President Wahids choices conflict with his earlier promises of a smaller (25 member), professional and uncorrupt team of ministers. None of those aspirations are evident in the ministerial appointments. The group includes six ministers from TNI and six from Golkar. PDI-P, the largest political party in parliament, secured only two positions, both in the economic ministries and only two out of the 35 positions were given to women. Moreover, few of the new ministers appear to have practical, applicable experience. The new Minister for the Environment, Soni Karef, for instance,was reportedly so shaken by a battery of questions from environmentalg roups on his first day at the job, that he lost composure and said would considerr esigning from the post.

Disappointments aside, many of the new ministerial appointments are an enormous advance on the crony politics of the last era. President Wahid deserves commendation for his choice of foreign minister, his economic team,attorney general and the creation of a much-needed minister for human rights.

Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab appears to be an excellent choice. Mr. Shihabis an Islamic scholar, graduate of Philadelphias Temple University, founding member of PKB and until last year, he taught at Harvard University. He has promised to run the department as openly as possible and has the potential to cultivate positive relations with the US and Europe, as well as the Arab nations and Asia. He has already suggested that he will seek to establish diplomatic relations with Israel reversing the Suharto-era trend of hostility initially through trade and travel.

The economic team, led by Coordinating Minister Kwik Kian Gie, a respected economist and deputy chairperson of PDI-P, merits praise. Kwik Kian Gie was instrumental in exposing the Bank Bali scandal and has earned a deserved reputation for uncompromising opposition to corruption. He is known as a proponent of free-market economics and erudite economic analyst. He is also one of two Chinese-Indonesians in the cabinet. He will be assisted by Laksamana Sukardi, minister for investment and state enterprises, also a member of PDI-P, putting PDI-P in effective control of the economic team.

State Minister for Human Rights Hasballah M. Saad is relatively unknown but comes from the highly conflicted region of Aceh in North Sumatra, wher ehuman rights abuses have been extant. This newly created ministry is of paramount importance and it is hoped that he will become a vocal and constant proponent of human rights.

Minister of Home Affairs Surjadi Soedirja is a former general and Jakarta governor who is known to have been a close associate of President Wahid. Minister of Manpower Bomer Pasaribu, from a trade union point-of-view, is President Wahid's most disappointing choice. Pasaribu, before becoming minister of manpower, led the government-controlled official trade union (SPSI), and was a Suharto appointee. He was opposed to the SBSI from the beginning and is known to have been partly responsible for Muchtar Pakapahans imprisonment. He is a definitive New Order (Suharto) crony bureaucrat. Before being chosen by Suharto to head SPSI, he headed the national youth organisation KNPI, and had no background in labour affairs. His appointment is a disappointment to many reform activists and will no doubt be considered to be in basic conflict with the notion of a corruption-free government. Nevertheless, the SBSI is optimistic that Pasaribu will leave his sectarian past behind in government and play a non-partial role in labour affairs. The SBSI will keep close watch on his actions in government.

The many echoes of New Order politics in the new cabinet has led disappointed student activists to call for a student strike in opposition to the appointments, starting next week. It remains to be seen whether sufficient support exists for such strident actions. On balance, the strong reform convictions the president, vice-president and the parliament will make it difficult for the compromise ministers to throw the reform agenda off track altogether. President Wahid, in just one week in office, has promised to release 80 remaining political prisoners including PRD Chairman Budiman Sudjamiko and publicly clear their names. He has spoken out for the need for higher wages for workers in the midst of the economic crisis. Moreover, President Wahid has demonstrated an earnest concern for redressing the centralisation of power and wealth of Jakarta over the regions, and appears sympathetic to calls for some form of federalism to achieve a more equitable national government.

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*    For the latest international labour news, visit Labourstart

*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 37 contents

In this issue
*  Republic: Yes, It's Time
Opposition leader Kim Beazley invoked the spirit of '72 when he launched the ALP's Republic campaign.
*  Interview: What Price a Just Republic?
Magistrate Pat O’Shane is far from happy with the republican model. But she still believes a Yes vote is her best chance for genuine constitutional reform.
*  Economics: Who the EFIC are you?
If you have not heard of Export Credit Agencies, don't be surprised because it seems they're not too interested in letting the public know what they do.
*  Unions: Old Habits Die Hard
With the release of its blue print [email protected] the ACTU seems to know where it wants to go. But again it has failed to face up to the underlying structural issues preventing it from getting there.
*  Legal: Second Wave: Reith's Non-Right to Strike
Peter Reith has called his new laws the Workplace relations Amendment (More Jobs Better Pay) Bill 1999. If legislation is to carry these new, colloquial titles then the ‘More Control, Less Freedom’ Bill would be a better title.
*  International: Wahid’s New Team
Indonesias new government is blemished by Suharto-era appointees but an advance for reform, says Indonesia’s trade unions.
*  History: They Fought Them on the Airwaves
Radio broadcasts were an important weapon in the long-running struggle for equal pay.
*  Satire: Revealed: SOCOG Reserving Gold Medals for Tattersalls
The scandal over the secret allotment of premium tickets for the 2000 Olympics escalated today with the news that members of Sydney’s elite Tattersall’s Club will receive Gold Medals without actually competing.
*  Review: What The Age Wouldn’t Print
Some time before Monday 18 October, Age editor Michael Gawenda saw red and then got out his blue pencil. An article, heavily critical of Robert Manne, written by Overland editor Ian Syson, was pulled by Gawenda.

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