Megawati and her new ministers

Down to Earth No 51 November 2001

The new president, Megawati Soekarnoputri, and her ministers face many tough challenges in coming months.

As the newly elected Megawati Soekarnoputri - Indonesia's first woman president - chose her new cabinet, there was intense speculation as to what kind of government she would form. The resulting "Gotong Royong" 32-member cabinet was hailed by the mainstream media as a good combination of professionals and experienced politicians. But Megawati's close association with the military was also evident from her appointment of one active and three retired army generals. They include the hardliner Lt. General Hari Sabarno as home affairs minister - in charge of decentralisation - and Lt. General (retired) Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as co-ordinating minister for political and security affairs (who retains his position held in the previous government). Megawati herself is widely regarded as a nationalist, a traditionalist and a cautious operator who is more concerned with promoting the interests of Jakarta's elite than the needs of Indonesia's tens of millions of poor.

Ministers in Megawati's cabinet include:

  • Muhammad Prakosa, forestry minister: minister for agriculture for a brief period during Wahid's presidency, he was previously deputy head of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation's office in Jakarta and has been a university lecturer in Bengkulu and Bandung. Prakosa is an active member of Megawati's PDI-P party and is thought by some to be more interested in promoting the interests of the PDI-P than in forest reform.
  • Nabiel Makarim, environment minister, replaces the outspoken Freeport /Rio Tinto critic, Sonny Keraf. Makarim has worked in the environment ministry for many years, and was deputy head of the environmental protection agency Bapedal from 1990 - 1999. He was sacked from this job by former environment minister Panangian Siregar. Makarim has identified his main priorities as illegal logging, forest fires and water quality. He has talked about an idea to establish an alliance which mobilises people to reject politicians who ignore environmental issues. He also views debt-for-nature swaps favourably as a means of funding reforestation and has talked of "corporate forests" - where forests are named after the multinational companies funding their reforestation. According to one NGO informant, the new environment minister is unlikely to show the same level of commitment as his predecessor.
  • Bungaran Saragih, agriculture minister, Purnomo Yusgiantoro, minister of energy, Rokhmin Dahuri, fisheries and maritime affairs minister andManuel Kaisiepo, minister for the acceleration of development of eastern Indonesia, all keep the positions they held in the last Wahid cabinet.
  • Erna Witoelar, former director of the NGOs WALHI and the Indonesian Consumers Association, loses her job as minister for resettlement and regional infrastructure.

The events of September 11th have meant that Megawati's honeymoon period has been shorter than most. Faced with open protests about the US bombing in Afghanistan from Muslim groups and members of her own government, she was slow to voice disapproval of the direction of the 'war on terrorism'. Before the bombing began Megawati visited the US where she pledged to co-operate with the international community in combating terrorism. Her policy of continuing to work with the IMF and World Bank on economic reform means she is under great pressure not to step out of line with US and European demands. Predictions of economic collapse forced deputy president Hamzah Haz to curb large-scale Muslim demonstrations of support for Afghanistan.

Megawati's relationship with the military has led to expectations among human rights organisations that the situation both in Aceh and in West Papua will deteriorate further. The new president is known to be a fierce nationalist and will not tolerate any suggestion that either of these disputed territories should decide their own political futures. Instead she is relying on the offer of 'special autonomy' to undermine independence movements while doing nothing new to curb military atrocities. See also page on autonomy for Aceh and West Papua). Her centralist outlook is also reflected in the decision to go ahead with revisions to the regional autonomy laws.

Megawati has paid little attention to Indonesia's environmental crises although she opened a forestry congress in Jakarta in October. Here she blamed forest destruction on mismanagement, corruption and the lack of proper planning. "To atone for our past mistakes, we will have to show our responsibility to the future generation by greatly improving forest management." While these aims sound good, it remains to be seen how far Megawati will be willing to take effective action. Her multi-millionaire businessman husband, Taufik Kiemas has been linked to timber tycoon Pangestu Prayogo, whose opportune visit to Singapore for health reasons allowed him to avoid further questioning on corruption charges.

The annual session of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) - Indonesia's highest legislative body - is being held in November. This was charged with deciding on proposals to change the constitution and to introduce new legislation on land rights and natural resource tenure and management. The outcome was unknown as we went to press.

DTE hopes that Indonesian civil society, which has made many gains during the post-Suharto period, will be effective in pressing for reform on natural resources management, human rights and judicial reform. With few sympathetic figures to these goals in the new cabinet, this could be a long, tough job.

(AFP 9/Aug/01; Jakarta Post 28/Aug/01 & 26/Oct/01; INCL 4-32b 12/Aug/01; FKKM 3-10/8; Tapol 21/Sep/01. See also Tapol Bulletin 163, October 2001 for further analyses of Megawati's cabinet)


DTE statement

DTE's statement on the change of presidency in Indonesia, published in August, after our last newsletter went to press, has been posted on our website at
The Bahasa Indonesia version is at