For Indonesia's Foreign Minister Post, Best Man May Already Be in the Job i

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, left, chats with his Indonesian counterpart Marty Natalegawa, right, during their bilateral meeting in Jakarta on Aug. 1, 2013. (AFP Photo/Adek Berry)

By : Leena Dahal & Vita A.D. Busyra | on 11:40 PM August 14, 2014
Category : News, Politics, Featured

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, left, chats with his Indonesian counterpart Marty Natalegawa, right, during their bilateral meeting in Jakarta on Aug. 1, 2013. (AFP Photo/Adek Berry) French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, left, chats with his Indonesian counterpart Marty Natalegawa, right, during their bilateral meeting in Jakarta on Aug. 1, 2013. (AFP Photo/Adek Berry)

Jakarta. President-Elect Joko Widodo’s appointment of the next foreign minister will be key to the future of Indonesia’s international role, with only one strong candidate — incumbent minister Marty Natalegawa — believed to be capable of retaining the country’s status as Asia’s emerging democratic power house.

Although Joko has more than once spoken of his vision for Indonesia’s international role — including his vow to develop the archipelago into a “global maritime axis” and continue its intermediation of the South China Sea conflicts — the Jakarta governor is widely expected to pay less attention on foreign affairs, due to his lack of experience in the sector, a drastic contrast to departing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Local international relations observers have credited Yudhoyono for reaffirming Indonesia’s leadership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), its membership in the Group of 20 economic group and its emerging international role in general during his decade in office.

Joko, popularly known as Jokowi, has been advised to continue where Yudhoyono leaves off, and with his perceived lack of interest in foreign issues, he will need a powerful foreign minister to head Indonesia’s diplomatic missions abroad, experts say.

“I believe the next government will be more concerned with domestic issues, especially as these formed the basis of Jokowi’s campaign,” said Makmur Keliat, an international relations expert at the University of Indonesia. “While I think Indonesia’s intermediary role will be maintained, it is possible to differentiate between Jokowi’s diplomatic statements and the existing reality. [Jokowi] will pay attention to these matters, but his main focus and priority will be on domestic matters.”

Hikmahanto Juwana, a University of Indonesia professor in international law, says high expectations will fall on whoever secures the multifaceted role.

“Ultimately, this means that the candidate must be highly capable of maintaining domestic interests while pursuing International policy and diplomacy, especially if tensions escalate,”

Hikmahanto said, adding that he believes one significant responsibility of a foreign minister — expected to be appointed in late October, following Joko and Vice President-Elect Jusuf Kalla’s inauguration on Oct. 20 — will be to continue advocating for the completion of the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea.

“The Indonesian [foreign] minister should continue approaching the problem through shuttle diplomacy, meaning he should actively move from country to country explaining that the code of conduct is vital to the resolution of tension [in the South China Sea] and its completion must be accelerated,” Hikmahanto said.

The international law lecturer stopped short of citing one specific name, but Marty remains a favorite choice for the post.

Though other names, such as University of Indonesia lecturer Andi Widjajanto and executive director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)  Rizal Sukma — both  of whom are active members of the Joko-Kalla campaign team — have also been tipped for the position, Marty’s vast experience in international affairs and

Indonesia’s diplomatic ranks make him the fittest person for the job, according to Bantarto Bandoro, an international relations observer at the Indonesia Defense University (Unhan).

“If they look at his [Marty’s] track record —  the achievements he’s made as foreign minister — they would know better than to use their own people and let him go,” he said in a June interview. “Additionally, there would be almost zero resistance against him within the diplomatic ranks. The same may not be said for public figures who have currently no connections to the foreign ministry.”

Bantarto added that ongoing negotiations such as the COC on the South China Sea would continue smoothly if Marty stayed at his post.

The Jokowi Center, in an unprecedented online poll inviting the public to have their say on the most suitable public and political figures for cabinet posts, has also placed Marty at the top of the list of candidates for foreign minister.

Amitav Acharya, an international relations professor at the American University in Washington DC, is joining the ranks of foreign policy observers who believe Indonesia is on the right track with its foreign mission.

Acharya, who recently published his book “Indonesia Matters: Asia’s Emerging Democratic Power,” underlined Indonesia’s impact in the region, pointing out that it has been a very positive force in Asean.

“It makes Asean look less like a club of authoritarian rulers, when the large countries in Asean become democratic and champion democracy and human rights,” Acharya told the Jakarta Globe. “It’s the combination of democracy, development and stability, which are going hand in hand.”

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