The Jakarta Post
Anticorruption activists have rebuked President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for his appointment of United Development Party (PPP) politician Lukman Hakim Saifuddin as the new religious affairs minister.
Lukman will replace PPP party chairman Suryadharma Ali, who was forced to resign after being named a suspect in a graft case.
Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) researcher Firdaus Ilyas said that considering the current administration would conclude in less than five months, the President should have chosen a more qualified person to lead the ministry, which is known to be one of the government's most corrupt institutions.
'I think the President has bowed to pressure over the political deal he made with the PPP when they joined his administration following the 2009 reelection. His decision has angered the public, which was expecting reform following Suryadharma's alleged involvement in the haj graft case,' Firdaus told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.
The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), which declared Suryadharma a suspect in a graft scandal related to the ministry's Rp 1 trillion (US$84 million) haj program, was wracked by a separate scandal surrounding the illegal procurement of Korans in 2012.
The Korans in question were obtained between 2011 and 2012, and were valued at an estimated Rp 75 billion.
In the haj case, the KPK has stated that additional suspects would be announced, possibly including senior ministry officials, legislators and PPP executives.
'Yudhoyono's decision has undermined the anticorruption record he's always boasting about in speeches. It's all about politics though,' Firdaus said.
Separately, KPK deputy chairman Zulkarnain urged Lukman to use the remaining time to work for reforms.
'If [he] is not serious about improving the system at the ministry, the same problems will recur. We will make sure that the ministry follows up on our recommendations to improve its management,' Zulkarnain said.
Meanwhile, political observer and anticorruption campaigner Dahnil Anzar said he doubted Lukman's ability to effect significant change given his limited time.
'Lukman is a relatively clean politician, but I don't expect significant improvements at the ministry,' Dahnil said.
Lukman, who now serves as deputy speaker of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), was in Batam on Thursday to meet with Yudhoyono, at which time the President officially offered him the post. Yudhoyono was on a three-day state visit to Batam at the time.
'The President has given me a mandate as the new religious affairs minister for reform. It will not be easy for me, but I am honored. I will seek support from religious leaders to fulfill this mandate,' Lukman said after meeting with the President.
According to Lukman, he will be officially sworn in on June 9 in Jakarta.
'The President has instructed me to improve the quality of religious life in Indonesia, especially with respect to [ending] religious intolerance. I will also focus on improving the haj program,' Lukman said.