Indonesia's Bakrie Grabs a New Top Post

With former Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati barely out the door for the World Bank, her bitter foe Aburizal Bakrie, one of Indonesia's richest men and the head of Golkar Party, has been appointed "managing chairman" of a new government joint secretariat that is likely to play an important role in determining government policy.

Apparently the secretariat was formulated last Friday at a closed meeting of ruling coalition parties at the home of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Bakrie has made no secret of the fact that he would like to succeed Yudhoyono when his presidential term ends in 2014, and some analysts in Jakarta see the appointment as a precursor to Bakrie's campaign plans.

Although senior Democrat Party members and Golkar officials say Bakrie's new position won't give him the power to influence the way the country is run, others are skeptical. Ikrar Nusa Bhakti, a political analyst from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, said Bakrie's appointment would give him strong influence in determining the way the government is run.

Hatta Rajasa, chairman of the National Mandate Party (PAN) and chief economic minister, who was previously coordinator for the coalition and who assumed command of the finance portfolio with Sri Mulyani's departure, which was announced on May 5, has been conspicuously left without a role in the new structure. Rajasa has also been regarded as having ambitions to become a possible presidential successor.

"President Yudhoyono may be safe for now, but he no longer has full political authority over the government," Bhakti said.

Sri Mulyani has been an implacable foe of some of Bakrie's maneuverings since the days when the two served in Yudhoyono's first cabinet. After he made a hash of his original appointment as Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs, she succeeded him. She made a particular enemy when she vetoed a bailout for Bakrie's distressed companies during the 2008 global financial crisis and for carrying on a sustained campaign to force Bakrie's companies to pay back taxes. Three Bakrie companies have been charged with tax evasion by the Finance Ministry'stax office. They are PT Bumi Resources, the country's biggest coal miner, PTKaltim Prima Coal and PT Arutmin Indonesia.

As a result there have been rumors of splits within Golkar itself, with some members of the party forming a "Clean Golkar Caucus" to ask that Bakrie step aside until he resolves the allegations of tax evasion, totaling Rp 2 trillion (US$212 million) by the three companies in 2007.

It is questionable if anyone in Indonesia today has the kind of steel that Sri Mulyani, a former International Monetary Fund official, showed as finance minister, or her knowledge of policy. Given Bakrie's new sway with the government, there is deep concern over who will succeed her.