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Jakarta Post

Political appointees tipped for prestigious diplomatic posts

  • Dian Septiari
    Dian Septiari

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, May 14, 2020   /   09:02 am
Political appointees tipped for prestigious diplomatic posts President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo (center) speaks in front of an audience of Indonesian ambassadors and foreign representatives at a briefing in Jakarta in February. (Courtesy of Foreign Ministry/-)

As COVID-19 batters the global economy and forces nations to reassess their foreign policy priorities, the Indonesian government has recommended 31 ambassadorial candidates to fill a number of key diplomatic posts around the world.

Amid pressures to keep the number of political appointees among envoys to a minimum, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo presented lawmakers in the House of Representatives with a list of candidates comprising mostly career diplomats, with the exception of nine people, most of whom supported him in his 2019 reelection bid.

However, three of the six most prestigious vacant posts in the next wave of appointments might still go to political appointees.

Former trade minister and current Medco Energi Internasional president commissioner M. Lutfi has been proposed to fill the ambassadorial post in the United States, one of the nation’s most strategic posts, while former Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) lawmaker Heri Akhmadi might become the next Indonesian ambassador to Japan.

Both posts were vacated last year after the two sitting envoys were promoted to Jokowi’s second-term Cabinet; Mahendra Siregar, then-ambassador in Washington, is now deputy foreign minister, while Arifin Tasrif, the erstwhile ambassador in Tokyo, was made energy and mineral resources minister.

Meanwhile, former Metro TV editor-in-chief Suryopratomo has been proposed as Indonesia’s top diplomat in Singapore, while the ambassadorships to the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and the European Union will all go to senior career diplomats Desra Percaya, Mayerfas and Andri Hadi, respectively.

The list of potential envoys was leaked this week and confirmed by a handful of lawmakers.

House foreign affairs commission chairwoman Meutya Hafid said the President had submitted the list on May 5, and added that the commission would start confirmation hearings after lawmakers return from recess in mid-June.

“We hope the ambassador candidates will be able to attend – of course, in accordance with COVID-19 protocols,” she said.

Other senior career diplomats due to depart for ambassador positions include Jose Tavares, the Foreign Ministry’s director general for ASEAN affairs; Rachmat Budiman, who was most recently the ministry’s inspector general; and Lutfi Rauf, currently deputy for foreign policy at the Office of the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs.

Jose has been proposed as ambassador to Russia, while Rachmat and Lutfi have been proposed as envoys to Thailand and Egypt, respectively.

“What is much more interesting [for us] is the political or non-career appointments, who would have to have political sponsorship and special considerations,” said Dewi Fortuna Anwar, international relations professor at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences’ (LIPI) Center for Political Studies.

As countries around the world reel from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, economists have warned that Indonesia may enter into recession and endure a much longer recovery period than others. As a result, policy decisions have mostly been guided by the need to mitigate the crisis and keep the economy afloat.

“In the short term, the ambassadors are [...] expected to focus on helping Indonesia in the post-COVID-19 recovery, especially in mitigating the economic impacts of the pandemic,” Dewi said.

Economic diplomacy has been a recent focus in the Jokowi administration, with the President telling ambassadors in January to put the majority of their resources into increasing trade and attracting investments.

As the main candidate to improve ties with Washington, US-educated M. Lutfi has a wealth of experience in economics, and has even served as ambassador once before.

Way before he backed Jokowi for the presidency, Lutfi was part of the campaign team of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who then appointed him as head of the Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM) in 2005.

As Indonesia’s ambassador to Japan between 2010 and 2013, Lutfi claims to have increased foreign direct investment to Indonesia by almost 700 percent. He also served as trade minister near the end of Yudhoyono’s second term in 2014.

A former chairman of the Indonesian Young Entrepreneurs Association (HIPMI), Lutfi cofounded the Mahaka Group alongside current Cabinet minister Erick Tohir and was named by the World Economic Forum as one of the “Young Global Leaders” in 2008.

“It’s certainly not easy to find someone with expertise in economic diplomacy,” Dewi told The Jakarta Post.

“It can be a bit of a learning curve for many people, so it never hurts to appoint someone who is already an expert.”

Regarding the appointment of Heri Akhmadi, however, Dewi said there was not much in his background to suggest a role as potential ambassador to Japan.

“It is possible he was politically sponsored rather than chosen as the right man for the [job]. Then again, there have been many political appointees who garnered success based on their strong character and lobbying skills,” she said.

Other political appointees include Golkar Party politician Roem Kono as candidate for the post in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Jokowi campaigner Hildi Hamid, the former regent of North Kayong in West Kalimantan, who has been proposed as ambassador to Azerbaijan.

The President has also earmarked ambassadorships to supporters from smaller parties: Indonesian Justice and Unity Party (PKPI) treasurer and coal businessman Iwan Bogananta is tapped to become envoy to Bulgaria, Albania and Macedonia; Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) politician Mohamad Irzan Djohan has been tipped as top diplomat in Oman; and Crescent Star Party (PBB) deputy chairman Sukmo Harsono has been recommended as ambassador candidate to Panama, Honduras, Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

The ninth political appointee on the list is Maj. Gen. (ret) Imam Edy Mulyono, who is proposed as ambassador to Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, Saint Lucia, Dominica and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.