Ordinary Indonesians mourn loss of Finance Minister Indrawati
By Sunanda Creagh
The decision by Indonesia’s reformist Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati to move to the World Bank must have thrilled those politicians who lobbied hard to dethrone her and derail her anti-corruption drive. But if letters to the editor in the local media are any guide, Indonesia’s ‘wong cilik’ or the little people, as the man on the street is called here — are in mourning.
“It was a black Wednesday in the history of our nation,” read one reader’s letter to the Jakarta Post.
“One of the most honest and qualified people and someone who is known as the hope, finally succumbed to political pressure by the political elite that prefer to remain.”
Many letter-writers have begged her to return in 2014 to run for president, while others have expressed fears that, without her, Indonesia will return to the bad old days of cronyism.
“We didn’t want to see you driven out. Take pity on the people of Indonesia!” one reader, Daslam Al Maliki, wrote on the Indonesian-language news website Tempo Interaktif.
Indrawati, as well as being a widely respected economist, is a notoriously tough cookie who stood up to powerful businessmen and politicians who wanted the rules bent in their favour.
In retaliation, she was made the target of an inquiry into the 2008 decision to bail out the ailing Bank Century.
Chief among her detractors was Golkar, the party of former President Suharto, now headed by business magnate and politician Aburizal Bakrie.
Her departure has also been met with a deafening silence from the country’s business elite. Few among Indonesia’s tycoons seem sad to see the back of a politician who made it her mission to end collusion between powerful businessmen and crooked officials and lawmakers.
Several have paid lip service to her abilities as an economist but no-one — except the distressed letter-writers — appears to be pleading for her to stay.
The yawning gap between the reponses of the public on the one hand and the political and business elite on the other underlines how out of touch those in power are with their constituents.
Last year’s elections were fought over the issue of reform, the fight against corruption, as means to deliver better economic growth and more jobs in a country of high unemployment and underemployment.
A recent poll by the Indonesian Survey Institute found that those parties that pushed hardest to investigate Indrawati and the Bank Century bailout decision have actually lost support.
Political analysts and economists are now wondering if her departure is a sign that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s commitment to institutional reform is flagging.
“What is wrong with Indonesia? While the top brains are needed to run this country, even the President approves this brain drain,” one reader, ‘Walt’, wrote in the Jakarta Post.
Not all letter-writers are Indrawati fans; several are suspicious she is leaving the country to avoid further questioning over the Bank Century case, an allegation Indrawati has dismissed.
But to many Indonesians, her bruising political battles have turned her into a national heroine while her new job on the international stage will bring prestige to Indonesia
Indrawati herself appears relieved and happy she is moving on to a job that will, hopefully, involve a little less mud-slinging.
“Don’t cry for me, Indonesia. I go for the good of all,” read one headline in the Jakarta Post, a wry reference to Argentinian leader Evita Peron.
PHOTO CREDIT: Sri Mulyani Indrawati addresses reporters. REUTERS/Enny Nuraheni