The government has submitted the names of 20 candidates, nominated to fill vacant ambassadorships, to the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
Among the names are those of former Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo as well as high-ranking police and military officers such as Sr. Comr. Ito Sumardi and Lt. Gen. Johny Lumintang. Also on the list is relatively unknown Nurul Qomar.
Golkar politician Muhammad Misbakhun criticized the government’s choice of candidates, saying it was a list of the president’s friends and people who had served with him during his terms in office.
“The way I see it, some of the ambassadorships [are] gifts for former officials who served during SBY’s regime,” he said on Tuesday, referring to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono by his initials.
Misbakhun also pointed out that some of the nominees had not established a track record as high achievers in their previous positions.
Meanwhile, the lawmaker said, ambassadors needed to have a good understanding of Indonesia’s foreign policies so they could convince other countries to accommodate Indonesia’s interests and form closer ties.
“Retired officials should spend their retirement in Indonesia rather than [automatically] becoming ambassadors.”
Mahfudz Siddik, a member of the House of Representatives Commission I which oversees defense and foreign affairs, said ambassadorial positions were the president’s prerogative, with the commission merely offering support in terms of information about the candidates.
“The House only provides input and notes based on the fit and proper test. But the final decision lies with the president.”
But he said the lawmakers still had a valuable role to play in terms of providing input.
“Yes, all the input from the lawmakers should be taken into account,” the Prosperous Justice Party politician said.
Mahfudz said Commission I was in the process of preparing fit and proper test for the candidates, scheduled it for Sept. 18.
Commission I deputy chairman Ramadhan Pohan said the president’s decision to recommend Fauzi Bowo as ambassador to Germany made sense.
“It’s not surprising to see the government recommend Fauzi Bowo. That’s because he graduated from Germany and has rich knowledge and experience on Germany,” Ramadhan said.
He added that since Fauzi had the advantage of speaking the local language it would make it easier for him to achieve mission priorities and generally avoid running into problems.
He said it was not unreasonable to expect Fauzi to improve bilateral ties between Indonesia and Germany.
Susaningtyas Nefo Handayani Kertopati, also a member of Commission I, agreed that Fauzi was the right choice to head up Indonesia’s mission to Europe’s largest economy.
“I think he is the right one for Germany because he studied there and has many friends and speaks German fluently,” said Susaningtyas, who is a member of the People’s Conscience Party (Hanura).
One of the names proposed by the government as an ambassador was Nurul Qomar, who was recommended head Indonesia’s embassy in Brunei Darussalam.
The initial reaction of many who learned about it was that former comedian Nurul Qomar did not have much of a public sector background, let alone foreign policy experience.
However, Ramadhan pointed out that this was a relatively common name and he couldn’t be sure whether or not it referred to the former entertainer who was elected to the House in 2004, and then again in 2009, the second time on the Democrat Party ticket.
“Which Nurul Qomar ... let’s find out first,” Ramadhan said.
“There is only one Fauzi Bowo but there are several Nurul Qomars. I think that’s a different person.”
Golkar Party’s Tantowi Yahya clarified that the nominee in question was a career diplomat currently serving in the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
“It’s not Qomar the comedian. It is a career diplomat,” he said.
Meanwhile, Tantowi said the government’s choice of Yusron Ihza Mahendra — a lawyer, former Commission I member and brother of a former Justice and Human Rights Minister — as ambassador to Japan struck him as somewhat unusual.
“There’s something interesting in the list of ambassadorial candidates and that’s the inclusion of Yusron’s name as the candidate for ambassador to Japan,” he said.
Tantowi was of the opinion that Yusron was not old enough for a country such as Japan, where seniority is highly valued.
He said regardless of whether it was something that had already been mentioned by the Japanese counterparts, they would surely be expecting Indonesia to appoint a more senior person to fill the top diplomatic post.
“It would be interesting to see, in the fit and proper test, why the president recommended Yusron,” Tantowi said.
International relations observer Hikmahanto Juwana, however, did not see anything amiss with the nominations of either Fauzi Bowo or Yusron Ihza Mahendra, echoing the opinions of others who felt they were best suited to represent Indonesia.
“An ambassadorship is a political position. The most important thing is that an ambassador acts as an administrator and mediator between Indonesia and the country to which he or she is assigned, and that he understands that country,” Hikmahanto said.
Fauzi will make a good ambassador to Germany because he has administrative experience, was the governor of Jakarta, and once lived and studied in Germany.
“Foke [Fauzi] and Yusron have been there before. Yusron once studied and worked in Japan. Even without having ever worked in the Foreign Affairs Ministry, at least they are familiar with the country where they will be posted as ambassadors,” he said.
Regarding the nomination of Ito Sumardi as ambassador to Myanmar, Hikmahanto said previous ambassadors to that country had likewise come from a police or military background.
He added that no matter who was appointed they needed to be able to represent Indonesia’s interests and that this was the bottom-line in all cases where an ambassadorship was involved.
“Ambassadors need to be able to speak for Indonesia and able to carry out their duties in accordance with the mandate.”
Hikmahanto mentioned information gathering and report writing as another important part of the mandate, so that the government would have a solid basis for formulating foreign policy.
But he pointed out that the job description was actually open-ended.
“You have to see what an ambassador can do,” he said, indicating that it wasn’t always clear in advance how he or she would best be able to advance the country’s interests overseas — perhaps by promoting tourism or facilitating bilateral exchanges for the benefit of Indonesian entrepreneurs or foreign investors, he suggested.
Hikmahanto said an ambassador might come from various backgrounds including the military, the academy, politics or the foreign service.
At the same time, he emphasized that an ambassadorship wasn’t a “left over” to be awarded in cases where there did not seem to be anything else to give.
President Yudhoyono is reportedly also planning to replace Indonesia’s ambassador to the United States, Dino Pati Djalal with Foreign Affairs secretary general Budi Bowoleksono.
That way, the reports say, Dino will be able to take over as chairman of the Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM), replacing Chatib Basri who has been appointed finance minister.
Chatib said he did not know who his successor would be, but that it if was Dino, he would be supportive of the decision.
“The president hasn’t said anything,” he said, while singling Dino out for praise.
He said he had done a good job as a diplomat and succeeded in introducing Indonesia to major foreign investors.
He added that Dino had a robust network, which was important for a BKPM chairman.