President Joko Widodo’s nine picks for the Presidential Advisory Board are top from left: Hasyim Muzadi, Abdul Malik Fadjar and Jan Darmadi. Middle row from left: Sri Adiningsih, Rusdi Kirana and Subagyo Hadi Siswoyo. Bottom row from left: Suharso Monoarfa, Sidarto Danusubroto and M. Yusuf Kartanegara. (Antara Photos/Andika Wahyu)

Wantimpres Appointments Fail to Impress


JANUARY 20, 2015

Jakarta. President Joko Widodo further abandoned his campaign promises in favor of horse-trading politics when he inaugurated nine members of the Presidential Advisory Board on Monday, the majority of them known more for their political affiliations than their professional expertise.

Six of the people recruited to the board — known as Wantimpres — are senior members of political parties forming part of the pro-government Awesome Indonesia Coalition (KIH).

They are Jan Darmadi, a property businessman and the head of the high assembly of the National Democratic Party (Nasdem); retired Army general M. Yusuf Kartanegara, also the secretary general of the Indonesian Justice and Unity Party (PKPI); Lion Air chief executive Rusdi Kirana, also a deputy chairman of the National Awakening Party (PKB); former People’s Consultative Assembly speaker Sidarto Danusubroto of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P); former Army chief of staff Subagyo Hadi Siswoyo of the People’s Conscience Party (Hanura); and former public works minister Suharso Monoarfa of the United Development Party (PPP).

Two other members of the board are senior academics: Abdul Malik Fadjar, a professor in Islamic education and a senior figure at Muhamadiyah, Indonesia’s second-largest Muslim group; and Sri Adiningsih, a professor in economics at Gadjah Mada University (UGM) in Yogyakarta.

Both of them, though, are known to have connections with Joko’s patron and PDI-P chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri.

Abdul served as the education minister during Megawati’s presidency in 2001-04, while Sri is an economic advisor to Megawati and a member of the PDI-P’s think tank, the Megawati Institute.

Only Hasyim Muzadi, former chairman of Indonesia’s largest Muslim group, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), is known to be free of political affiliations.

What makes the selection of the figures sounds very much more like political horse trading rather than a real need for capable advisors is that some of them have actually admitted they don’t know exactly what kind of advising is expected of them.

For example, Subagyo, who only learned of his nomination to the board last week, said he didn’t know in what areas he would be needed.

“I don’t know what I will be tasked with; I haven’t been inaugurated yet,” Subagyo told Indonesian news portal on Monday morning, shortly before the inauguration ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta.

“The president will give directives later, after the inauguration. Seeing the practices in the past, usually we’ll share our [advisory] jobs,” he added.

Similar comments came from Rusdi and Suharso. With his experience leading Lion Air, Indonesia’s largest budget carrier, one would think Rudi will probably be tasked with advising the president on business or investment matters.

Rudi said vaguely though that “it won’t be a specific sector for each member. Everyone will be given opportunities.”

Suharso said he was also unsure. “If I’m asked of what my interests are: they are economy and monetary. So probably [my advisory job] will concern those areas.”

PKPI chairman Sutiyoso, believed to have nominated Yusuf — the party’s secretary general — for the Wantimpres job, similarly expressed his lack of knowledge on the matter.

He said, though, that Yusuf’s past job as the deputy attorney general for intelligence might be taken into account.

“Let the president distribute the tasks,” Sutiyoso said.

None of the leaders of pro-government parties were selected to join the Presidential Advisory Board, as they are supposedly required to abandon their party duties once installed — according to the 2006 Law on Wantimpres.

The appointment of the official team of presidential advisors has drawn criticism from political observers, including Tjipta Lesmana, a professor in political communications with Pelita Harapan University.

Tjipta said Joko should have appointed figures with vast experience and proven expertise in their respective fields, and because he needed them.

“What are the competence of these Wantimpres members? I don’t understand. First, [Joko] appointed a Nasdem politician as the attorney general, and then nominated Megawati’s former adjutant as the National Police chief, and now appointed [politicians] as Wantimpres members,” Tjipta said.

“Jokowi doesn’t understand defense and security issues, as well as foreign policy. He should have picked people who have vast knowledge on those matters,” he added.

Tjipta said Joko should have followed in the footsteps of his predecessor, former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who appointed real technocrats as advisors during his terms in office. Among Yudhoyono's appointments was the late former foreign minister Ali Alatas, another former foreign minister, Hassan Wirajuda, former Constitutional Court chief justice Jimly Asshiddique, Indonesian environmental guru Emil Salim and prominent lawyer Adnan Buyung Nasution.

Most of the Wantimpres members during Yudhoyono’s terms had clear areas of expertise, including in politics, economy, defense and security, foreign policy, environment and health sectors.

Experts in the last three sectors are notably missing from Joko’s advisory team.

Setara Institute chairman Hendardi said Yudhoyono’s mistake was that he had rarely listened to Wantimpres’ advice.

Now, under Joko, it is highly doubtful that the bulk of Wantimpres members will be able to give the president much-needed advice.

“I doubt the majority of Wantimpres members can provide healthy policy considerations to the president,” Hendardi said on Monday.

“The appointment shouldn’t have been based on horse-trading for political parties, with their supposed expertise only decided later for justification.”

State Secretary Pratikno defended Joko’s choice of personnel.

“There’s no such thing [as political horse-trading],” Pratikno said. “It’s only normal for a government to maintain close relations with parties that support it.”