Monday, May 24, 2010

Western-style leadership gets the thumbs down in Indonesia

I met a contact today who suggested that the pace of reform in Indonesia is dependent on the ongoing clash of mindsets between Western-style politicians and more traditional, Javanese leaders.

Often educated in the West, the first set of politicians tend to have clear policy aims, a strong belief that you win the argument first and the support will follow and a knack for political communication and marketing.

The latter group, often educated in Indonesia, typically prefer to promote unity over confrontation, building political support bases before pushing policy programmes and progressing with great caution.

While this simplified breakdown of the complex Indonesian political landscape is not unproblematic, it is interesting to note that the recent weeks have not been good for the Western-style politicians.

First Sri Mulyani Indrawati, the highly-rated finance minister, announced she was stepping down, following intense pressure from vested political and business interests who were unhappy with her reforming zeal.

Then yesterday, Andi Mallarangeng, the sports and youth affairs minister, suffered a humiliating defeat in the election for the chairmanship of president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Democrat Party.

Both Sri Mulyani and Andi are reformers who undertook postgraduate education in the US, speak good English and would not seem out of place in many Western cabinets. Andi spent significant amounts of money on posters, TV adverts and a wider media campaign but lost out to Anas Urbaningrum, a more traditional Javanese politician who spent his campaign ingratiating himself with the various regional party chiefs.

The Javanese Yudhoyono, who put Sri Mulyani in the finance ministry and employed Andi as his first-term spokesman, clearly appreciates the pair's results-oriented political approach. But he evidently is not keen to back them at the risk of fomenting political discord.


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