Reshuffle to Put Politics over Performance

JAKARTA ~ A government reshuffle to be announced by the president is unlikely to remove all ministers accused of incompetence and corruption, analysts said.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia’s first democratically elected president, has come under pressure to make changes in the wake of a slew of transport disasters in recent months that have killed several hundred people.

Corruption claims also dog two ministers, prompting calls for their removal, while authorities have failed to curb the spread of deadly bird flu, and anger mounts over compensation payments to Indonesia’s mud volcano victims.

But instead of sacking the ministers responsible in the reshuffle expected as early as this week, Yudhoyono will need to balance a string of competing demands from parties crucial to his political survival, analysts said.

“It is obvious that political interest will dominate (the reshuffle),” said J. Kristiadi, from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private think tank in the capital.

Yudhoyono, halfway through his five-year term, needs the continued support of six parties to maintain a majority in parliament, he explained.

“Yudhoyono’s Democrat Party has only a few seats in parliament. The president needs Golkar for his policies to pass through parliament.”

Golkar, the largest party in parliament and chaired by Vice President Yusuf Kalla, has been leading the call for change, by replacing ministers with its own lawmakers.

But Yudhoyono fears giving Golkar more power ahead of 2009 general polls would jeopardize his own chances of reelection, said Eep Saefullah, political analyst at the University of Indonesia.

“President Yudhoyono will make the reshuffle in line with his own 2009 strategy,” he said.

Those tipped for demotion include Transport Minister Hatta Radjasa, over recent sea and air disasters, including for an Adam Air plane that crashed into the sea on New Year’s Day killing all 102 people aboard.

A subsequent audit found none of Indonesia’s airlines met all minimum safety standards, sending shudders through the nation’s air-traveling public.

Home Affairs Minister Moh Ma’ruf might be replaced because of ill-health, local media and analysts also said.

Justice and Human Rights Minister Hamid Awaluddin and State Secretary Yusril Ihza Mahendra are in the firing line, amid allegations they helped Tommy Suharto transfer money he is suspected of corruptly obtaining.

The youngest son of former dictator Suharto, Tommy remains the enduring symbol of the corruption that plagued his father’s more than three-decade rule.

But analyst Ikrar Nusa Bhakti, from the Indonesian Institute of Science, said both ministers were skilled political operators and could ride out the controversy.

“Awaluddin is backed by Vice President Jusuf Kalla while Yusril (Mahendra) knows too many of Yudhoyono’s secrets,” he said.

Calls for Aburizal Bakrie, coordinating minister for social welfare, to be moved aside, could also go unanswered because of his seniority in Golkar and backing of Vice President Kalla, analysts also said.

An energy firm linked to Bakrie has been blamed for triggering the disastrous mud flow in East Java that has displaced 15,000 people and swamped infrastructure.

He also oversees multiple efforts to combat bid flu in Indonesia, the nation worst hit by the virus with 74 deaths.

With economic growth forecast at six percent, Yudhoyono’s finance ministers are likely to remain, said Radja Panda Silalahi, an economist with CSIS, despite chronic poverty and unemployment in some areas.

Yudhoyono made a minor reshuffle in December 2005, transferring three ministers and promoting another three.

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