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Indonesia new government starts work

JAKARTA, Oct 22 – Indonesia’s new government started work on Thursday, three months after elections which returned President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to power for a second and final term.

The liberal former general, who was inaugurated Tuesday having won a landslide victory in July, has compiled a rainbow coalition with six of the nine parties in the House of Representatives, controlling 423 out of 560 seats.

Unveiling his new cabinet late Wednesday night, the taciturn 60-year-old acknowledged that his choice of ministers would not please everyone but hailed his new team as the fruit of a thriving young democracy.

"I’m nearly certain some people will not be satisfied with this or have other opinions," he said in a nationally televised address.

"I think that’s fine… it was the same when the last cabinet was formed, and that’s democracy."

He took no questions from the media and offered no explanation for his ministerial line-up, described as a "compromise cabinet" by The Jakarta Post’s front-page headline.

Eleven years after the Suharto dictatorship’s collapse ushered in a new era of "Reformasi," Indonesian governments are still chosen behind closed doors through a system of nods and favours.

Yudhoyono was re-elected on promises of continued growth in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy, bureaucratic reform to improve governance and attract investment, and a renewed commitment to fight deeply entrenched corruption.

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Analysts agree that cabinet posts in Indonesia are doled out as gifts to coalition party big-wigs in exchange for their cooperation over the five-year term of the government.

"There are too many politicians and people from parties instead of professionals," University of Indonesia analyst Arbi Sanit told AFP.

"It seems that SBY wants to have those politicians to be his political coolies," he added, referring to Yudhoyono by his nickname.

Centre for Strategic and International Studies economist Pande Raja Silalahi said Yudhoyono had prioritised stability over effectiveness.

"The cabinet shows that for SBY the most important thing is togetherness. There’s no need to quarrel, no need to fight. That’s his priority," he said.

Airlangga University political analyst Daniel Sparingga said Yudhoyono knew that political chaos would jeopardise economic growth, which is forecast to reach six percent in the coming years.

"This cabinet reflects permanent and sustainable economic growth, which is realised by the existence of political stability," he said.

Yudhoyono’s centrist Democrat Party has six out of 34 portfolios, including the powerful post of energy and mineral resources.

The nationalist Golkar party, Suharto’s preferred political vehicle, was given three posts including industry.

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But in a sign of Golkar’s dwindling stature, the Islamic Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) took four posts despite winning just 57 seats in parliament compared to Golkar’s 106.

Yudhoyono has been wary about the religious vote in the mainly Muslim country of 234 million people, and appears to be hoping the PKS — which has roots in Egypt’s banned Muslim Brotherhood — will shore up that flank.

In an attempt to give some competence to the line-up, all-important posts in economic and foreign affairs went to independent experts with solid track records.

Former International Monetary Fund senior executive Sri Mulyani Indrawati keeps the finance portfolio, while Mari Pangestu stays at the helm of the trade ministry where she has been a steady advocate of open markets.

Foreign affairs passes from Hassan Wirayuda to career diplomat Marty Natalegawa, a former ambassador to Britain who most recently has been Indonesia’s representative at the United Nations.

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