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The return of Wiranto and Sri Mulyani

Sri Mulyani (left) and Wiranto.  PHOTOS: EPA
Sri Mulyani (left) and Wiranto. PHOTOS: EPA

Wiranto: Security strongman is back

The appointment of retired general Wiranto as Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs took many by surprise.

Relatively low-key since failing to make the run-off as a candidate in the 2014 presidential elections, Mr Wiranto has big shoes to fill.

While strongman Luhut Pandjaitan has handed him a largely effective ministry, Indonesia remains a prime target for terrorists, including domestic militants linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

He will have to be at his best not only to prevent another terrorist attack, but also to fend off questions over his poor human rights record when he was chief of the Indonesian armed forces, said lawmakers.

"Wiranto's alleged complicity in murder, arson, and mass forced expulsions in East Timor in 1999 entitles him to a fair criminal trial, not a seat in the Cabinet," said Human Rights Watch director for Asia Phelim Kine in The Jakarta Post.

Mr Wiranto, chairman of the People's Conscience Party, or Hanura, was indicted by United Nations prosecutors in 2003 for crimes against humanity over his refusal to take command responsibility for the bloodshed in what was then East Timor in 1999.

  • Two names stood out in Indonesia's reshuffled Cabinet last Wednesday - Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, a celebrated economist; and Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Wiranto, a retired general. Both will have their work cut out as Indonesia continues to face economic and security challenges amid global uncertainty. The Straits Times Indonesia Bureau chief Francis Chan looks back on their careers, as they return to lead the ministries they once helmed.

The National Commission on Human Rights has also accused him of other human rights violations such as the Trisakti University incident in 1998.

Four students were killed and many others injured after soldiers opened fire on them when they protested against then President Suharto on campus.

The United States has joined the voices of many human rights activists in expressing concerns over his return to the ministry where he had first served under former president Abdurahman Wahid for about three months between 1999 and 2000.

Mr Wiranto, has challenged his accusers to prove those allegations. "I'm hoping that the issues regarding my involvement in cases of human rights violations can be proven in detail," he said in an Antara report. "I will then offer my explanation to each accusation."

Mr Wiranto has two daughters, Lia and Maya, with his wife Rugaiya Usman. Their son Zainal died from an illness in 2013 while he was pursing Islamic studies in South Africa.

The 69-year-old from Yogyakarta has had a smooth transition from the military to politics, serving as minister of defence and security from 1998 to 1999 under Mr Suharto and stand-in president B.J. Habibie.

He also ran for president in 2004, and was close to becoming vice-president twice. The first was in 1999 when Mr Habibie was planning to run for re-election, and the second was when he was running mate to current Vice-President Jusuf Kalla in 2009.

Some observers said Mr Wiranto's appointment may be President Joko Widodo sending a message to domestic militants that he will get tough on extremism. Others say the post was a reward for Hanura's support during his presidential campaign, said a veteran Indonesia analyst who asked not to be named.

"Either way, Wiranto will have to show that he has what it takes to be what is regarded as the most powerful ministerial position in Cabinet, and it will not be easy when he has to fend off detractors going after his human rights record."

Sri Mulyani: Veteran economist returns

When President Joko Widodo needed a minister to spearhead his economic reform agenda, including an overhaul of Indonesia's tax system, he chose former World Bank managing director Sri Mulyani Indrawati.

The 53-year-old returned to Indonesia last week to helm the Finance Ministry as part of Mr Joko's second Cabinet reshuffle in as many years.

It was a homecoming for the veteran economist, who had held the same post from 2005 to 2010.

OCBC Bank economist Wellian Wiranto said she had won over market players with her straight-talking style and was credited with keeping the Indonesian economy steady during the global financial crisis in 2008 - both critical factors that led to her recall by Mr Joko.

"During her previous tenure, she also won plaudits for cleaning up internal bureaucracy at the ministry, particularly at the crucial Tax Directorate-General," he added.

Among her accolades are Euromoney Finance Minister of 2006, as well as being ranked 37th in Forbes magazine's "100 most powerful women of 2016".

She has a solid track record as a technocrat but is not known to have political affiliations, which explains her previous clashes with the Jakarta business elite during her first stint as finance minister.

  • Two names stood out in Indonesia's reshuffled Cabinet last Wednesday - Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, a celebrated economist; and Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Wiranto, a retired general. Both will have their work cut out as Indonesia continues to face economic and security challenges amid global uncertainty. The Straits Times Indonesia Bureau chief Francis Chan looks back on their careers, as they return to lead the ministries they once helmed.

Her appointment was largely welcomed and had an immediate impact on stock prices and the rupiah, which recorded gains for most of last week. But it also brought back memories of a dark time in an otherwise stellar career.

According to a report in The Jakarta Post, Dr Sri Mulyani was in self-exile when she took the World Bank job in 2010, mainly over criticisms from lawmakers who had accused her and then-vice-president Boediono of mishandling the Bank Century bailout two years earlier.

Parliament called for a probe against them, but neither was ever implicated in any wrongdoing.

Dr Sri Mulyani was born in Lampung, Sumatra and was the seventh child of university lecturers. She completed her doctorate in economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1992. Her husband is also an economist and they have three children.

Mr Joko was said to have personally called World Bank President Jim Yong Kim to release Dr Sri Mulyani to be his Finance Minister.

"I know that the President's highest priority is the ongoing reform programmes, and Sri Mulyani's return will increase confidence in Indonesia's performance and will be highly important for promoting transparency," said Mr Kim.

A priority for her would be to ensure Mr Joko's tax amnesty programme delivers the billions in revenue he had promised. She is also expected to balance the state budget in the years ahead.

Experts such as Centre for Strategic and International Studies economist Yose Rizal Damuri are optimistic that she can make the amnesty work, having successfully led a similar tax plan from 2008 to 2009. The older scheme pulled in 7.5 trillion rupiah (S$768.6 million) in tax revenue, he said.

A big advocate of multilateral cooperation, Dr Sri Mulyani has promised to work with other ministries to ensure that the state budget is in line with Mr Joko's fiscal policies.

"We will sit down together to look at the targets set not only in the tax amnesty programme, but also the state budget," she said on Thursday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2016, with the headline 'Wiranto: Security strongman is back'. Print Edition | Subscribe