5 things to know about Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla

Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit during the UN General Assembly in New York on Sept 26, 2015.
Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit during the UN General Assembly in New York on Sept 26, 2015. PHOTO: EPA

Indonesia's Vice-President Jusuf Kalla has sparked controversy in recent weeks over his comments on the ongoing haze that has blanketed parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Last Friday (Sept 25), the 73 year-old caused a stir when he was quoted saying that Indonesia need not apologise to neighbouring countries over the haze, adding that it needed only to ensure that the forest fires do not recur.

Those comments echoed similar ones he made in March and in previous years, criticising the country's neighbours for grumbling about the haze.

Here is what you need to know about the Indonesian No. 2.

1. Family background and education

Born in South Sulawesi, Mr Kalla came from a successful business family trading in silk and commodities in Makassar. He attended the University of Hasanuddin in Makassar and graduated in 1967 with an economics degree. He took over the family business a year later, helping it to expand from an import-export business into construction, real estate, shipbuilding, and transportation among other sectors. In 1977, he became an alumni of the Paris-based INSEAD international business school, where he had studied business administration.

2. Rise to politics

 
 

Mr Kalla joined Indonesia's Golkar party - the country's oldest - in 1965, chairing the youth division of the Makassar branch. He later climbed the ranks, before entering parliament as a regional representative for South Sulawesi, serving four terms from 1992 to 1999.

In 1999, Mr Kalla served briefly as trade minister under President Abdurrahman Wahid, also known as Gus Dur, before he was fired over corruption allegations. Mr Kalla denied the charges.

However, Mr Kalla's political career was not yet over. He returned to the Cabinet as welfare minister when then Vice-President Megawati Sukarnoputri took over the presidency from Mr Gus Dur after the presidency collapsed in 2001 following allegations of corruption and incompetence.

During this time, Mr Kalla became more popular and he decided to run in the 2004 presidential elections as a candidate. That year, he contested and won the vice-presidency after teaming up with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

3. Career in government

Known to be decisive and unwavering, Mr Kalla is also a good political networker.  During his first term as vice-president, helped to drive through parliament some unpopular government polices. However, his outspoken nature meant that his relationship with Dr Yudhoyono soured during the administration.

Although Dr Yudhoyono found him a difficult deputy at times, Mr Kalla was an able operative in fending off attacks on the administration from opposition politicians trying to undermine the government. Analysts have said Mr Kalla's "impulsive" streak and independent ways upset Dr Yudhoyono and led to Mr Kalla being dropped during Dr Yudhoyono's re-election bid in 2009.

Mr Kalla, however, decided to contest against his former boss in the election and he ran the campaign with former military chief Wiranto. The duo lost, coming in third against Dr Yudhoyono and his running mate Boediono and second-place finisher Megawati and her running mate Prabowo Subianto.

Mr Kalla came under the spotlight again in the lead-up to the 2014 presidential election, emerging as the widely favoured running mate for then-presidential hopeful Joko Widodo. His return to office came after he was picked by Mr Joko during last year's presidential election which they later won.

4. Reputation

Although his comments have been controversial, Mr Kalla has long been known for his sharp political instincts and lobbying skills. Despite his outspoken nature, he has a reputation for being affable and down-to-earth. He is knowledgeable about business affairs and has an extensive political network, having headed the Indonesian Council of Mosques. Outside of politics, Mr Kalla has also served as the chairman of the Indonesian Red Cross Society since 2009.

5. Family and life

Mr Kalla has been married to his wife, Mufidah, a former bank employee, since 1967. The couple have five children.

SOURCES: STRAITS TIMES ARCHIVES, JAKARTA POST, REUTERS, INDONESIAN PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY