Latest Wahid reshuffle seen as pointless

JAKARTA, Reuters

Floundering Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid reshuffled his economic ministers on Tuesday, a move analysts dismissed as pointless and not enough to save him from impeachment in August.

Wahid sacked six ministers earlier this month in a desperate, but apparently unsuccessful, attempt to placate his political opponents.

In a statement read for the near blind leader by an aide, Wahid replaced Chief Economics Minister Rizal Ramli with a little known deputy governor of the central bank, Burhanuddin Abdullah.

Ramli will become finance minister, replacing Prijadi Praptosuhardjo.

“The reason of the changes is to increase the efficiency (and) in order to possibly meet (economic) targets,” Wahid said in the nationally televised statement.

Prijadi has been publicly at odds over policy with Ramli, who himself has engaged in a bruising war of words with the International Monetary Fund, Indonesia’s lifeline to foreign aid.

Ramli told Reuters the new team would focus on speeding up the sale of assets held by the country’s bank restructuring agency and boosting economic restructuring.

In his first comments after the announcement, Abdullah promised to get on better with the IMF, which has held back fresh loans since late last year because of slow economic reforms.

“I will try to restore good relations with the IMF by completing all tasks agreed in the (latest) pact,” he told reporters.

“Why is this important? Because we badly need confidence from the international community.”

Economists said the moves would be a waste of time.

“A team that will be in place for two months. What difference does it make?” one Western economist said.

Politically isolated Wahid is trying to stave off impeachment when the top legislature meets on August 1 to assess his chaotic 20 month rule and role in two financial scandals.

The reshuffle is seen as a possible way to repair strained relations with his popular vice president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, and her powerful Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P), the country’s largest.

But her officials said it would not make any difference.

“PDI-P has a clear stance. If the reshuffle is aimed at halting the special (impeachment) session, then that’s impossible … The special session must still go on,” Deputy Party Chairman Roy Janis told reporters.

Megawati has not been consulted over the reshuffle, nor was she asked for input on the June 1 Cabinet changes.

“Ever since the reshuffle last year, Megawati has never been consulted on Cabinet changes,” Hery Akhmadi, a senior MP with Megawati’s political party, told Reuters.

Another senior party official, quoted by the Antara news agency, said Megawati “only laughed” when asked for her comments on the impending reshuffle.

Former Wahid adviser and economist Sri Mulyani Indrawati said a key concern was the lack of continuity for international creditors who would be dealing with a third change in the top economic posts in 20 months.

She also said that Ramli in the Cabinet would do little to help repair Jakarta’s poor relations with the IMF.

Dealers said Indonesia’s bruised financial markets had almost become immune to the political horse-trading and a new economics team, especially if short lived, would yield little reaction.

Economist Didiek Rachbini said the new team would only be a cosmetic change and would not solve the country’s financial problems, which range from trying to attract foreign capital back to Indonesia and dealing with a crushing debt nightmare.

“The political problems are much deeper than a mere shakeup in the Cabinet, which won’t solve anything,” Rachbini said.