My Parting Shot at Khalid Ibrahim

September 24, 2014

My Parting Shot at Khalid Ibrahim

Let us dedicate this BEE-GEES tune to the former Menteri Besar of Selangor, Khalid Ibrahim.

You are a true political novice who fails the understand the rules of democratic politics. You have also flouted all rules of common decency with your “dog in the manger” attitude. That is why the joke is now on you. You forgot that you were made Menteri Besar by virtue of your party, PKR, winning the 2008 General Elections in a partnership with DAP and PAS as Pakatan Rakyat. You occupied that office at the pleasure of your party and Pakatan Rakyat to serve the people of Selangor.

In stead of bowing out gracefully, you chose to put Selangor in a political crisis for 9 months. So you will be remembered as the most selfish Menteri Besar in the history of the richest and most developed state in our country. You deserve whatever that is coming to you in the months ahead. –Din Merican

The Joke is on You, Khalid Ibrahim

by Koon Yew Yin

The inevitable exit of Khalid Ibrahim as Menteri Besar of Selangor marks the end of a turbulent and sorry phase in our country’s political history.

In his last official address, the outgoing political leader told his audience of state civil servants to ignore the political drama and to let politicians do war with one another. He also stated that their drama will eventually become a joke.

Perhaps Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim was not aware of the supreme irony of his statements.The consensus of informed judgement among non-politicians as well as from professionals in the legal fraternity and from academia is that it was Khalid himself who brought about the needless drama.

Many will also see Khalid as the biggest joker as well as the principal villain in this wayang kulit. As a politician, Khalid should have been fully aware of, and should have honoured, the rules of democratic leadership.

The first rule is that a leader has a position and stays on for as long as his party has confidence in him and supports him in the post that he is selected to hold.This is the same for all positions in the party or the state – beginning with whether it is as branch chairman or at the highest level of the state.

These rules of the game applies not only to political parties. It also applies to all organisations that subscribe to democratic norms. Not only did Khalid refuse to abide by this basic principle of democratic leadership but he also gave the public – as well as other key stake players such as the monarchy – the false impression that he had the support of the majority of state assembly members in his attempt to resist being replaced as the MB.

Whatever the reason for his unhappiness with the way in which he was being replaced, and however justified he was at being let down by his fellow party leaders, his response and attempts at delaying or circumventing the termination of his tenure, could in no way justify his blatant use of the palace and other individuals and parties to extend his stay in office.

Neither can he justify what is commonly perceived to be his efforts at trying to influence the selection of the next MB. Besides being castigated as the politician who attempted to cling to power by fair or foul means and who wilfully provoked an untimely and unnecessary crisis between his own party, PKR, and PAS, history will judge Khalid Ibrahim harshly for several other reasons.

Perhaps the most important is that he has contributed, wittingly or unwittingly, to a redefinition of the powers of the constitutional monarchy which has resulted in the undermining of our parliamentary democracy system.We will never know the contents of the discussions held between the Selangor Sultan and Khalid.

However, as the outgoing MB and political adviser to the Sultan, it was surely incumbent on him to reiterate the basic principles and processes which underpin the country’s parliamentary democratic system, whether at state or federal level and to ensure that these principles and processes are not undermined or violated in any way. That does not seem to have happened.

As one of our most astute political commentators puts it: “The decision of the Sultan of Selangor to decide for himself who would be the most suitable candidate for Menteri Besar has established a new principle of governance in the country. It is not enough that the party with the majority of seats in the state assembly should select its candidate of Menteri Besar – the candidate must now also be formally ‘acceptable’ to the Ruler.”

Furthermore, as someone who gives the public the impression that he respects gender equality, Khalid should have been the first person to refute the objections raised in various conservative quarters on the prospect of a female Menteri Besar. Instead he chose to remain silent and by doing so, has contributed to a major setback to gender equality in politics in the country.

There are several other reasons why Khalid can be seen to have done a disservice to the cause of democratic, parliamentary and gender advancement in the country. But these two indelible black marks will remain forever associated with his name – in the legal, constitutional and history books. –TMI

Open Letter to YAB Azmin Ali, Menteri Besar, Selangor

September 23, 2014

Congratulations, YAB Azmin,

I share the sentiments expressed in this Malaysian Insider Open Letter. But I also want offer my views which I hope will be useful to you as the new Menteri Besar of Selangor.

MB Azmin

There is no doubt that your predecessor has left you with a difficult job of regaining public confidence and trust in your own party PKR and Pakatan Rakyat (PR). PAS has become a major problem while PKR is a house divided with many factions working at cross purposes. The task of establishing rapport among PR leaders will be probably your biggest challenge. Right now you have limited freedom of action, given the influence Anwar Ibrahim and Wan Azizah have over the party and your close ties to them.

I have known you since 2007 and had the opportunity to work closely with you during 2008 General Elections, which saw the rise of Pakatan Rakyat as an alternative coalition to UMNO-BN. I know you to be a very intelligent and tested political leader with strong academic background in Mathematical Economics and Statistics from the University of Minnesota, United States. You have excellent organisational and oratorical skills and connect well with people, irrespective of their colour, race or religion. Your loyalty to PKR is unquestioned and the manner in which you handled the recent crisis in Selangor bears testimony to the fact that you are a true blue party man. These qualities now make you eminently qualified for the job as Head of Government of the richest state in Malaysia.

We have to wait for your state budget 2014/2015, which will be tabled at the next StateDin Merican lastest Assembly to know what you have in mind for the first year of your administration. I would, however, suggest you should focus on affordable housing for Selangorians, upgrading of roads and social infrastructure, and health services, especially having a general hospital in Shah Alam, and revamping of local councils and state GLCs.

In the next 100 days you should make personnel changes in the public services. You should not hesitate to remove those civil servants who have shown themselves as being incapable of administering the state. You need to select civil servants who are less inclined to play politics. Loyalty to the state is of utmost importance. And the state needs competent and loyal  civil servants. Lead by example , do not succumb to the temptations and trappings of your office, and never for one single moment let power go to your head.–Din Merican

Open Letter to YAB Azmin Ali, Menteri Besar, Selangor

by The Malaysian Insider

“There is no honeymoon period. You have to hit the ground running and do well from Day One. Unfair? Not really. The people in the state have had to put up with a lot of nonsense of late. This is the laundry list of shame: betrayal by a coalition partner; seeing the Constitution and the Rule of Law trampled; witness a Menteri Besar refuse to walk away from his position gracefully; seeing PKR stumble with one snafu after another. There is little patience among voters for more dithering and mistakes.”–The Malaysian Insider

Selangor gets a new Menteri Besar today in you and Pakatan Rakyat (PR) gets to continue running the country’s wealthiest state after a messy nine months of politicking that has left people wondering why it even happened.

How different will you be from the previous occupant of the office in Shah Alam, Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim? You cut your teeth in politics, serving Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim from early in the PKR de facto chief’s political career, while Khalid has been a corporate man for most of his life and burst into the political limelight in the 2008 general election.

Azmin AliIn the past six years, we have seen Khalid turn from political greenhorn to a man who shook his own party and coalition, sacked his allies, made deals after years of rejecting them, and hurt PR from the inside. Here is what we expect from you as you make your debut as the leader of the state government of Selangor.

1. You must avoid back room deals with powerful individuals. One theory floating around is that some powerful lobby was always concerned that Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail would have been a stumbling block to one-sided transactions, etc.

2. You must consult the Selangor people on major projects and be willing to explain the rationale on controversial deals such as the Kidex expressway.

3. You must be fair and even-handed in dealing with minorities in Selangor. For example, instead of staying on the sidelines, you must be willing to speak out and act when the rights of others are trampled upon. The Khalid administration did not cover itself with glory in the handling of the seizure of Bibles earlier this year.

4. You must be prudent in using the RM3 billion funds in the state’s coffers. This money belongs to the rakyat, and not PR.

5. You must remember that you owe your allegiance and loyalty to the rakyat, the same small men and women who have supported PKR since its inception and have stood by you and your party even during the most trying days, when it was unfashionable and costly to be a PKR supporter. The powerful and the connected may demand a pound of you but ultimately, you are where you are today because of that housewife in Sekinchan or that teacher in Subang Jaya.

6. You must remember that this is PR’s one shot – the last chance to show Malaysians that it has the ideas and policies to run not just the wealthiest state in Malaysia, but the country also. After all, the “Kajang move” was all about removing the insipid Khalid and replacing him with the dynamic Anwar, who was going to use Selangor as a frontline state for inclusive and just policies.

7. There is no honeymoon period. You have to hit the ground running and do well from Day One. Unfair? Khalid Ibrahim2Not really. The people in the state have had to put up with a lot of nonsense of late. This is the laundry list of shame: betrayal by a coalition partner; seeing the Constitution and the Rule of Law trampled; witness a Menteri Besar refuse to walk away from his position gracefully; seeing PKR stumble with one snafu after another. There is little patience among voters for more dithering and mistakes.

8. You are a public official. There is no aspect of your life that can be nicely carved aside as private.For example, if there is a deal brokered between you and a financial institution or another business entity, it has to be declared to your political party and to the state assembly.

9. You risked arrest and were part of thousands of Malaysians who marched in favour of free and fair elections. You have been threatened with detention without trial and other draconian laws by a regime that has shown little respect for freedom of speech and disdain for the Rule of Law. You have been fighting the establishment for more than 20 years. Being the MB does not make you part of the establishment.

10. It is better to be remembered for doing the right thing and for standing up for the right principles than amassing wealth and influence. Would you rather be Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, or Marcos?

11. Your report card will be marked by the voters in three or four years, and not by JAIS or MAIS or UMNO power brokers or Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad or Datuk Seri Najib Razak. Getting a ringing endorsement by Utusan Malaysia or any of the mainstream media is a death knell and not something to write home about.

12. Your promise is to the people of Selangor. All of them, not just the civil service or your own party. You are the MB for all of them. Serve them well. Praise will come from all quarters, not just the civil service or other vested interests, when it is due.

YAB Azmin, you carry a heavy burden after what has happened the last nine months and even from PR’s second term as the Selangor government from 2013. Most of the issues have been self-inflicted, either by your party, some officials or even allies. Make the most of the remaining mandate left to show that you are the right choice and that the Selangor Sultan has chosen well.

All the best, to you and the people of Selangor.


Selangor moves into uncharted political waters

September 23, 2014

Selangor moves into uncharted political waters

by Dr. Wong Chin (09-22-14)

Azmin AliThe New Menteri Besar of Selangor

COMMENT:  From 1959 till today, Selangor has been a state-level constitutional monarchy within the Federation of Malaysia. This mean its government is parliamentary: the voters elect the lawmakers, and the lawmakers – indirectly through political parties – nominate the Head of Government who then picks his executive team, all of whom are to be officially appointed by the Head of State.

The parliamentary system therefore produces a “responsible government” by having the Head of Government and his government to the Legislature, which has a fixed maximum term, and is in turn answerable to the voters. In other words, there is a simple and straightforward chain of responsibility, between the voters, the voters, the lawmakers and the government.

This gives the government the legitimacy to rule because its policies would be what the electorate voted for in the election.Thus, the electorate makes the choice and should not complain if the elected politicians carry out the deal on their end. In this sense, voters are supposed to be responsible too – you get what you vote for, so, you bear responsibility for the consequences of your choice.

Separation of State and Government

sultan_sharafuddin_of_selangorHRH The Sultan of Selangor–Game Changer

Parliamentary government also makes it possible for a state to be a monarchy and a democracy at the same time. The Head of State can be unelected and hereditary, but the state can still be democratic, because the Head of State is a figurehead and is not required to make substantial decisions. And simply because the Head of State does not make any substantial decisions, he is blameless and may reign as long as he lives.Meanwhile, the Head of Government who gets to make substantial decisions have to bear the brunt of voters’ wrath if his decisions turn out to be unpopular.

In contrast, in a Presidential government, the President is both the Head of State and the Head of Government. And since the President makes substantial decisions, he must be elected for the State to stay democratic. This, however, makes the President exposed to and tainted by party politics, and partisanship affects his ability to command patriotic love from fellow citizens.

{In the US, the Congress in particular the Senate is an equally powerful institution and together with an Independent Judiciary, a free media and vibrant civil society, it forms an integral part of the system of checks and balances.–Din Merican}

In absolute monarchies, the monarch is the Head of State and also the Head of Government – in reality, even if not in name. He cannot escape blame for failures in policy or governance. And since there is not a regular exit mechanism like elections, unpopular monarchies often have to survive bloody crackdowns or collapse in bloody revolts.

This separation of State and Government, through the division of labour between the Head of Statebagehot_walter (Monarch) and the Head of Government (Prime/Chief Minister), argued the 19th Century English constitutional expert Walter Bagehot, is why the Westminster constitutional monarchy is superior.

People can love the Head of State they don’t get to choose because they can overthrow at ballot box the government they loathe.

Popularity as commodity

In this democratic game, the commodity that matters the most is popularity, not competence, integrity, piety or pedigree. Why? Popularity can be objectively assessed, while competence, integrity, piety or even pedigree may be subjectively disputed.

The demand of popularity in fact applies on both the Head of State and the Head of Government. For the office of Head of Government, competence, integrity, piety or pedigree is only useful insofar it delivers popularity in elections and ultimately, the Legislature.

Pushing it to the extreme, democracy means even if the people love an inept or a villain so much that they give his party a majority in the legislature, then he must be made the Head of Government. Any damage by an inept or bad leader can only be checked by law, not by preventing him getting power. After all, who is there to decide that the people have made the wrong choice?

In picking the Head of Government, there are simply no decision makers higher than the people and their elected representatives – that’s what “popular sovereignty” is all about. Meanwhile, the Head of State needs to be popular so that he can command the loyalty of the citizens. Competence or intelligence is not required because the Head of State does not make substantial decisions.

And to be popular – in the sense of acceptability by all segments of society, and not playing to the gallery – is fundamentally about playing according to the rules, where lifelong training through exclusive upbringing in palace may indeed be an advantage.  One virtue of having an unelected and non-partisan Head of State is that political life can be more predictable.

While the Head of Government and other politicians may be driven by electoral pressures to pull off unpleasant surprises, one can expect the Head of State to remain an assuring constant in the volatility of electoral tides.

New political system

Before 2008, barring a few cases of royal displeasure, the ruling coalition had got their way in decidingDr.Mahathir their federal and state leaders. As former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad (right) said, he only needed to submit one name in nominating the heads of state government.

A continuity of this after 2008 would have smoothened Malaysia’s transition from an electoral one-party state to a multiparty democracy. Monarchy can be a guardian of fledgling democracy, like King Juan Carlos was to post-Franco Spain.

It has been reported today that PKR Deputy President Azmin Ali has received the appointment letter to be the next Menteri Besar from the Selangor Palace. If Wan Azizah who has the support of 30 state lawmakers – a clear majority in a 56-member legislature – had been appointed as Menteri Besar of Selangor, we know then the original system is still in place and functioning.

Otherwise, not only Selangor, but Malaysia too, is sailing into uncharted waters. If the legislative majority cannot nominate their leader as the Head of Government, why should the new government be accountable first to the legislature and not the palace that appoints it? We will effectively have a new political system without even a stroke of pen on the Constitution. One may not know what to call the new system – perhaps ‘Monarchy ala Thailand’?

Pakatan’s options

How should Pakatan or specifically PKR respond to this likely scenario?

Khalid Ibrahim2 Option 1: Pakatan can order the lawmaker to turn down the offer or sack the person as how PKR did to Khalid Ibrahim) when he refused to step down as Menteri Besar.

The appointee may hold his power till the next assembly is convened, assuming a judicial remedy is not available or obtained. If Pakatan can pass a motion of no-confidence against the new MB, likely a fresh election may then be forced. This would be the most congruent and principled response. The price is prolonged confrontation with the Palace which may hurt the parties, given a controlled media environment and public sphere.

Option 2: Pakatan may want to recognise and rectify a big loophole in the political system, which has been used to justify the Royal intervention. In UK the or Australia, the ruling party can change its leader anytime, with completely no room for the Queen or the Governor-General to select the new Head of Government, because the party leader is elected by the ruling party’s lawmakers through the caucus.

If Pakatan wants to reclaim its power to nominate the Head of Government, whether for Selangor or even whole of Malaysia, it should consider to institutionalise the party caucus as a mechanism of leadership election and even as a check and balance in general.

If the new Menteri Besar knows he can be sacked by his peers even though he may have owed his appointment to the Palace, then he cannot ignore his peers, and a responsible government may not be a completely lost cause. Of course, Pakatan can also simply accept the new reality and do nothing. However, if it does so, it should not be surprised if voters don’t want to risk a replay of Selangor at Putrajaya in the next election.

WONG CHIN HUAT earned his PhD from the University of Essex with a thesis on the electoral system and party system in peninsular Malaysia. He is a fellow at the Penang Institute.

Azmin Ali is the new Menteri Besar, Selangor Darul Ehsan

September 22, 2014


Azmin Ali is the new Menteri Besar, Selangor Darul Ehsan

Azmin AliPKR Deputy President Azmin Ali has received the appointment letter to be the next Menteri Besar from the Selangor Palace.

The letter was received this evening and the Bukit Antarabangsa assembly person is expected to be sworn-in tomorrow morning.

Contacted by Malaysiakini, the Selangor Sultan’s Private Secretary Mohamad Munir Bani confirmed this. Azmin is currently in a meeting with PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim and party president Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.

Letter from Selangor Palace

Media personnel have converged at the PKR headquarters in Tropicana, where a press conference is slated to be held later. It remains to be seen if both Anwar and Wan Azizah would endorse Azmin’s appointment and bring the curtain down on the protracted crisis.

Have High Expectations Of Our Young, says Bakri Musa

September 22, 2014

A Modest Proposal for the Champions of Ketuanan Melayu

First of Three Parts: Have High Expectations Of Our Young

by Dr. M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California

Hardly a day goes by without those self-proclaimed champions of Malay race and defenders of Malay rights frothing at the mouth demanding that they (non-Malays) do this or that so we Malays could be the unquestioned Tuans (masters) of Tanah Melayu.

Dr.MahathirWhen these Hang Tuah wannabes are not consumed with their theatrics of brandishing their ketchup-soaked kerises, they are obsessed with denigrating our culture and national character. To them we are lazy, dishonest, and know no shame.

Strip the rhetoric and those expressions of frus (“Manglish” for frustration) and fury are understandable if not predictable. We are frustrated because with the billions spent on us and the ever-generous special privileges heaped upon us, we still lag behind the others. We are furious because despite not being mollycoddled by the government, they thrive.

We are so angry that we cannot even pause to ponder perhaps they prosper precisely because the government leaves them alone and does not direct their lives, or that the massive “help” we get is anything but that. There is an art in helping. Done right and you open the door to the world for those you help; done wrong and you have a dependent invalid.

Our futile and unenlightened reactions do not solve our dilemma; they hinder by hiding the glaring reality and fundamental issue: Malays are not competitive or productive.

Malaysia cannot be stable much less thrive if a sizable and readily identifiable segment of its population (more so if they consider themselves “special” or “princes and princesses of the soil”) is marginalized through lack of competitiveness or productivity. Then all Malaysians would suffer. If Malays are competitive, then Malaysia would be too.

At the individual level, if Malays are competitive then we would be Tuans even if we are not in Tanah Melayu. I can attest to that.

Because we are not productive, our hard work does not generate commensurate returns.That disheartens us. To aggravate matters, those whom we deem “successful” get there not through their own effort but connections, corruption, and other classic manifestations of a rentier economy. That discourages us even more; worse, it encourages us to emulate them, meaning, do anything but an honest day’s job.

Our laziness and dishonesty are the result and not the cause of our lack of competitiveness and productivity. Our newly-acquired value system where honest hard work is denigrated only aggravates matters. Once we acknowledge that we are not competitive or productive, and appreciate the various contributing factors, then we can begin crafting effective remedies. That demands hard work and much thought, with little time left to shout or be angry.

Enhancing our competitiveness and productivity would enable us to contribute to rather than depend on the state. Apart from benefiting the economy, that would also dignify our values and culture, quite apart from reducing our envy for the achievements of others. We would also be less likely to be swayed by the demagogues amongst us.

It is too late and would do little good to focus on the old, rigid, or senile. Besides, they are the not the future of our race or country. Likewise the Mat Rempits; their die is already cast. As per our ancient wisdom, melentur buloh biarlah dari rebung nya (if you wish to bend bamboos, begin with the shoots). Not just any sapling but those promising ones, the ones at our Sekolah Berasrama Penuh (SBP, fully residential schools).

How good a job are we doing at shaping those vigorous saplings? SBPs get the top students, best teachers, and more than their fair share of resources. However, visit the top universities and the Malaysians there are from other than our supposedly elite SBPs. This sorry state should alarm those champions of Ketuanan Melayu.

Consider the oldest SBP, Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK). It only recently started its InternationalHisham_Keris Baccalaureate (IB) program. Prior to that the school, like most SBPs, was but a glorified middle school; its students had to go elsewhere to matriculate. Despite the luminaries on its board (with Raja Muda of Perak, now Sultan, chairing it), MCKK took over a decade to implement its IB program. Imagine the pace at lesser institutions! MCKK’s female counterpart, Tunku Kurshiah College, remains an expensive middle school.

IB is a rigorous academic program, and recognized as such worldwide. Despite or perhaps because of that, few of MCKK students enroll in the program. That speaks volumes of them, and their perception of the school after spending five years there.

It may surprise many but the two schools that regularly send the most students to elite universities are not in Britain or America but South Korea (Daewon, established in 1984; and Minjok, 1997). Both may be new and in a non-English speaking country, with their students non-native English speakers to boot, but they bested the Etons and Exeters.

It is a sad commentary that in over a century MCKK managed to send only a very few to the Ivy League, fewer than peas in a pod. If Malaysia aspires to have a Nobel laureate by 2020, as expressed often by many, then may I suggest that it first try a less lofty goal, as with sending a student or two to Harvard or Yale? This should be SBP’s yardstick. There is no point in having these expensive SBPs if their students were to end up at UiTM, Creekville State U, or the University of Ulu Britain.

Our SBPs do not lack for potential Ivy League candidates. Fulfilling their aspirations would require strong effort not just from them but also the entire community, from teachers and governing boards to parents and policy makers. Failure to do that would provide potential recruits for future Mat Rempits and latter-day Hang Tuahs.

SBP students must and should end up at top universities. There must be acceptance of and striving towards this singular goal. The scarce and expensive resources of SBPs should not be expended on those with lesser expectations. If the students do not share such high aspirations, then they should not be at a SBP. The students at Minjok and Daewon are very much aware of this high expectation when they apply for admission.

There should not be any equivocation, or the adding of extraneous fuzzy themes like loyalty to “bangsa, bahasa, agama, negara.” Those are nebulous and not readily measurable anyway. The cause of our bangsa, bahasa, negara, agama is best served with these students attending elite institutions.

By “elite” I mean the top dozen in Britain, the half a dozen in Australasia and Canada, and a hundred or so in the US (University of California level and above). You do not need expensive SBPs to prepare for the rest.

Mahathir and his wardsSBPs are expensive, so we must explore innovations to reduce the cost so many more could benefit. These include dispensing with the boarding component, inviting private sector participation, and making those who could afford pay their way.

Take the last item. To non-Malays, the billions spent on SBPs are for Malays; there is no denying that. However, visit any SBP on weekends; the parking lots and beyond are filled with expensive late-model cars of wealthy parents.

If I had been spared my children’s educational expenses I could have a new Lamborghini and more every year. If those rich Malay parents had been made to pay the full freight, they would not send their children to SBPs, thus opening more slots for deserving poor kampong kids. That would truly be helping Malays.

When I went to Malay College in the early 1960s, there was a quantum leap in my living standards. I studied under the cool comfort of the fluorescent lamp instead of the searing heat of a kerosene one, and enjoyed piped water instead of having to haul it from a well. I was also spared endless hours waiting for the erratic village school bus. For my sons and grandsons however, sending them to Malay College would be a significant downgrade. Besides, that would deprive other young Bakris now in the kampongs of their opportunity.

Contrary to popular perception, making SBP free does not “help” Malays. Far from it! As well-to-do parents do not factor in the costs of their children’s education, they do not save. In the aggregate that contributes to the declining savings rate; and with that, capital formation that is so essential to economic growth. Worse, we corrupt the values and mindset of those wealthy Malays, turning them into welfare recipients. They in turn transmit those values to their children; the subsidy mentality and culture of dependency ingrained for generations. That is the most destructive part.

Next Week – Second of Three Parts: Molding Our Students

Indonesia: Joko Widodo’s Cabinet of Technocrats

September 22, 2014

Indonesia: Joko Widodo’s Cabinet of Technocrats


INDONESIA’S future President Joko Widodo has finally announced the likely composition and structure of his up-coming cabinet, and few seasoned Indonesia-watchers are surprised by the revelations thus far.


In what appears to be a compromise of sorts, the future president has stated that the upcoming government will consist of 34 ministries and departments, and that 18 of the future cabinet ministers will come from technocratic-professional backgrounds, while 16 will be politicians from parties that are part of the winning coalition.

That most of the future ministers and department heads will come from a professional, perhaps even non-political background, tells us something about the future president’s commitment to making the changes that are deemed necessary as part of his grand “mental revolution” plan.

And that 16 of the cabinet ministers come from political parties — including his own PDI-P — tells us about the need to forge a working compromise between the major political players in the country.

That Jokowi has taken this pragmatic approach and has appointed so many technocrats to his government is not a novel thing: those whose memories go back to the Suharto era will recall that the 32-year rule under President Suharto also witnessed the rise of the technocratic elite in the country, and that was a time when key non-party-political entities, such as research centres and think tanks, began to boom.

This was the period of the so-called “Berkeley elite”, where foreign-educated technocrats were invited back to the country to helm key industries, such as petroleum and gas mining, Indonesia’s tentative steps into higher-end industrial manufacturing.

It was also a period when the New Order under Suharto was keen to de-politicise Indonesian society and minimise the social friction that may arise from inter-party feuds and politicking. The net result was the emergence of a new Western-educated technocratic-professional class, who later planted the seeds of the rising middle classes that we see today.

But Jokowi’s decision to include so many technocrats and professionals in his cabinet may also be linked to new societal factors that were not prevalent in the past. Earlier this year, in the lead-up to the elections, numerous public polls and surveys were conducted by polling agencies in the country. Among the more startling results of these polls were the revelations that most Indonesians place more faith in the private sector and the media rather than political parties.

Political trust has eroded among many sections of Indonesian society, and it was interesting to note that the surveys found that many ordinary Indonesians felt that party politics was morally bereft, that corruption was normal, and public faith in political rhetoric was at an all-time low.

Having campaigned all year-long to bring about a radical change in the mindset and working culture among ordinary Indonesians across the country, the changes we see now are in keeping with the broad outlines of the “mental revolution” that Jokowi has been talking about: removing the post of deputy minister for all ministries is part and parcel of his effort to trim down unnecessary politicking, lobbying and paperwork, and may also go some way towards speeding up the process of policy making and implementation. Also note the focus on key departments and ministries such as education, which will be broken up into two entities: the Lower and Secondary School Education Ministry, and the Higher Education and Research Ministry.

Jokowi comes to power at a turning point in Indonesia’s history, and when external variable factors, ranging from the American “pivot” in Asia, to China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea, the growing trade links and diplomacy between China and India, and all point to the rising importance of Southeast Asia in world affairs.

Many Indonesian politicians and policymakers are aware of this, and wish to capitalise on Indonesia’s obvious geostrategic importance, though this can only happen if and when Indonesia gets its act together and resolves its own internal domestic challenges that are equally complex, and which range from its crippling energy and logistics needs to the fear of rising religio-political violence as a result of citizens getting themselves involved in the violence in Syria and Iraq.

How all these issues are to be tackled at the same time, and in time to ensure that Indonesia continues to maintain healthy growth for the next two decades, is going to be the single biggest challenge for Jokowi and his government over the next five years. And the technocrats and professionals who will be part of that transformation process know that Indonesia’s challenges can only be met with pragmatic and realistic solutions, and not empty, though sweet, political rhetoric and promises.

In the weeks to come, the names of the future ministers will probably be released and the public will have a better idea of what this coming government is going to look like. In the meantime, Jokowi also has to ensure that by fore grounding professionals and technocrats as he is likely to do, he does not alienate the powerful politicians and kingmakers who may not be comfortable if their respective parties are marginalised and not given enough clout in the management of state affairs. Altogether, an interesting episode of Indonesian history is about to begin, and the challenge begins now.