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Indonesian president appoints "cabinet of cronies"

Even Golkar ministers get cabinet seats, in an effort to forge unity. The respected Kuntoro Mangkusubroto heads a "Presidential Unit on Bottlenecks." Investors get giddy about his economic appointments. Indonesia intercepts unwanted cargo headed for Australia. Jakarta motorists lose the one pleasure in their hellish commutes. And a polygamy club tries to sell skeptics on Big Love.

Top News: Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono unveiled his new cabinet on Oct. 21, a day after he was inaugurated for an historic second term. Anticipation ran high that the reformist president would stock his cabinet with equally reform-minded ministers. Instead, more than half of the appointments went to his political supporters.


The technocrats were primarily appointed to economic posts, while other key positions, like the minister for justice and human rights, went to politicians who supported his second bid for president.


His “cabinet of cronies” as some are calling it, has raised questions about the president’s commitment to reform. Yudhoyono, however, said it was necessary to ensure smooth passage of legislation and other policies. Several posts, for instance, went to representatives of Golkar, the former political vehicle of Suharto, which joined Yudhoyono’s coalition just weeks before his inauguration. A fractious relationship with Golkar ministers in Yudhoyono's first term is believed to have hampered reforms.


Still, analysts say if Yudhoyono can wield his newfound power and reign in rogue elements within his cabinet, the next five years could be promising for the country. 


The same week of the cabinet unveiling, the Indonesian Navy stopped a boat with 255 Sri Lankan refugees bound for Australia — the 34th boat it has intercepted this year. The refugees, coming from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Myanmar, are seeking political asylum in Australia but ending up in Indonesia instead.


The issue has complicated relations between Indonesia and Australia, which is struggling to form a clear policy on political refugees. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's administration has taken a softer approach than his predecessor, causing an influx of immigrants. Indonesia, meanwhile, lacks the resources to take in a stream of refugees.


Rudd is poised to approve an “Indonesian Solution,” in which the Australian government would pay Indonesia to intercept the refugees before they arrive in Australia and then provide support for immigration costs. But Indonesia, already overcrowded, is wary of accepting new arrivals. Several hundred Muslim Rohingya refugees from Myanmar have sat in rudimentary camps for months while the Indonesian government negotiates their deportation.


Money: Investors and economists are giddy about Yudhoyono’s new economic ministers, who look largely similar to his last. He has retained popular finance minister Sri Mulyani and trade minister Mari Pangestu. And he added Gita Wirjawan, a former JPMorgan executive in Jakarta, to head the country’s investment board.


He has also created a new ministerial post that will focus on pushing through badly-needed investment and infrastructure projects. The post, vaguely called the Presidential Unit on Bottlenecks, will be filled by Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, a highly respected former energy minister who designed the president’s plan for the first hundred days of his second term. Most famously, Kuntoro headed the Aceh Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Agency, successfully managing billions in foreign aid. Known for cutting through red tape, he is expected to push through stalled expressway, power plant and mining projects.


Yudhoyono simultaneously released his second five-year economic plan, which aims to accelerate growth in the real sector by reforming labor and land acquisition laws that have stymied infrastructure projects. The World Bank says it's confident Indonesia can achieve its goal of 7 to 8 percent growth within the next five years. 


Elsewhere: Police have stripped Jakarta motorists of the one thing they look forward to during their hellish commutes — taking a left turn on a red light (autos drive on the left side of the street here). Intended to relieve traffic problems at intersections, the new rule, like most traffic laws in Jakarta, is likely to be ignored.


A fun-loving polygamy club is drawing criticism from the more moderate parts of Indonesian Muslim society. Polygamy is increasingly becoming taboo here, though it remains legal. Under Islamic law, Muslim men are allowed to have four wives. The club acts as a match-making service, helping women of ill-repute or those past marrying age find spouses.


The Malaysian owners say they want to “change people’s perception about polygamy, so that they will see it as a beautiful rather than abhorrent practice,” according to the Associated Press.