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Hope and change? Jokowi embraces the ‘Butcher of Lampung’

Indonesia’s new President-elect has selected a very controversial transition team. Were hope and change just slogans to become elected? Indonesia analyst Jim Della-Giacoma explains.

Lurking behind the hope and change that came with Jokowi’s election victory are the old established forces of Indonesian politics. As the President-elect prepares to take office in October, Joko Widodo is building a governing coalition that may not be as endearing as the high ideals that got him elected.

Undeterred by a constitutional court case challenging his victory, on the weekend Jokowi expanded his transition team with four new members, including the former head of the National Intelligence Agency (BIN) Abdullah Mahmud Hendropriyono. Hendro, as he is known, was in charge of BIN in September 2004 when one of its agents poisoned leading human rights activist Munir Said Thalib on a flight from Jakarta to Amsterdam. One of his senior deputies was charged but acquitted of organising the assassination. A Garuda Indonesia pilot and suspected BIN agent was convicted of the crime.

For Indonesians with longer memories, Hendro is also known as the “Butcher of Lampung”. In 1989, troops under his command crushed a group trying to establish an Islamic state in the southernmost province of Sumatra. The operation left at least 27 dead and 78 missing. Some unverified reports claim the death toll reached hundreds.

While associated with Jokowi’s campaign for some time, Hendro’s formal appointment to the inner circle was called “insensitive” by human rights activists. For some, it sits uncomfortably with Jokowi’s image of a reformer.

Hendro has proved to be a political survivor. Pushed out of his position at the intelligence agency soon after Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono took office, he spent a decade in the wilderness. During this time, he completed a PhD in philosophy and has been a regular talking head on television on security issues.

But loyalty is often rewarded and many sins forgiven in politics. Hendro’s patron when he was BIN chief and overseeing domestic and international intelligence was then-president Megawati Sukarnoputri. Her Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), which nominated Jokowi to be president, will return to power after a decade in opposition when he takes office.

Hendro’s addition to the team was announced but not explained on Saturday by one of the four deputies of the transition office, Akbar Faisal. The addition of the new four advisers was decided by Jokowi, Faisal said. In Australia, we might call this a “captain’s pick”, but it also shows that this team has more than one leader. While she had to relinquish her dream of ever becoming president again to allow Jokowi to run, Megawati is still an active player. She has her favourites from her three years in office from 2001 to 2004.

Megawati’s control of the transition team is exercised through its chief of staff Rini Soemarno, a businesswoman, foreign-educated technocrat, and the minister for industry and trade in Megawati’s cabinet. One of her key PDIP lieutenants, Hasto Kristiyanto, is also a member, and presidential election coalition partner National Democrat is represented by Akbar Faisal. Youthful academics Andi Widjajanto and Anies Baswedan are some of Indonesia’s best and brightest. Andi, son of a prominent PDIP legislator and former general, joined the campaign and coached Jokowi for debates; Baswedan, a man with great ideas on education, acted as his spokesman during the campaign.

But the expansion of the transition team needs to be understood beyond any distaste for Hendro’s appointment. The three other new members each represent important constituencies: Syafii Maarif once led the mass Muslim organisation Muhammadiyah, the group that forms the base of one the National Mandate Party (PAN) of Prabowo Subianto’s running mate Hatta Rajasa; Luhut Panjaitan is another former minister, retired general and senior Golkar politician, and will be a bridge for those in the former ruling party who are willing to abandon Prabowo’s coalition for a role in government; Cornelis Lay adds another PDIP and Megawati loyalist to the team.

In the end, the transition team itself has only fleeting importance. Its major role will be to help Jokowi select a cabinet. The makeup of his front bench and the presidential advisers he chooses to bring with him to palace will tell more about the compromises he has been forced to make to the parties that backed him and how he will govern. At that point, we will have a better idea if Jokowi has a team capable of forging a new future for Indonesia or if he will be trapped by its past.

*Jim Della-Giacoma is a visiting fellow in the Department of Social and Political Change in the School of International, Political and Strategic Studies at the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific.

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