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Yudhoyono accepts trade minister's resignation

Publication Date : 02-02-2014


Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has accepted Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan's resignation so that he can focus on the Democratic Party's presidential convention, but has asked him to stay on in the job until a successor is named soon, State Secretary Sudi Silalahi said.

Yudhoyono described Gita as "an example of an office holder with political ethics", Sudi said on Saturday. Gita, 48, resigned on Friday, saying the ongoing primary was important to him and the country, and staying on in Cabinet could create a significant "potential conflict of interest".

His imminent departure from office has however heightened speculation that he is Yudhoyono's favourite in the ongoing party convention, as participants prepare to travel across the country in the coming months for a series of debates.

Stepping down from a busy portfolio would give Gita time to make himself known more widely, though it is unclear how it might boost his and the party's fortunes at elections for Parliament in April and for president in July.

Gita told reporters he hoped to target the large number of people who were not inclined to vote. "Many of them are young people and women," he said.

Gita's credentials, good looks and musical talent have drawn comparisons with Yudhoyono.

A Harvard graduate, Gita, 48, was tapped to head his country's Investment Coordinating Board in 2009 and made trade minister in 2011. He headed investment bank JP Morgan's Indonesia operations and worked at Goldman Sachs, but lacks recognition at the grassroots.

"The resignation shows he is privileged," political observer Hanta Yuda told The Straits Times. "There have been political signals from Cikeas, including this resignation, that its preference is for Gita," he added, using the term for Dr Yudhoyono's private home outside Jakarta where party leaders meet.

Gita had offered to resign at the start of the process last September, but was asked to stay on to oversee Indonesia's chairmanship of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings in October and the World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting in December.

Critics last year accused him of abusing his trade minister role to appear on billboards and other advertisements to support Indonesian-made products. The ministry soon stopped these ads, but explained that featuring him was cheaper than hiring models.

Gita's latest step comes as opinion polls show state-owned enterprises minister and former media mogul Dahlan Iskan leading the pack of 11 Democrat presidential hopefuls, followed by former army chief Pramono Edhie Wibowo, who is Yudhoyono's brother-in-law. Only a handful of the other candidates have left their jobs, like former ambassador Dino Patti Djalal, or taken leave, like university rector Anies Baswedan.

Gita's resignation appears to have placed Mr Dahlan in an awkward spot. But the latter said on Friday he would stay on as minister, because his ministry was different, and involved overseeing companies not policies, which might take weeks to decide on. "I'm not a presidential candidate yet, and there is no guarantee I will become one."

Gita's move drew much criticism. Several MPs accused him of ducking recent allegations that permits issued by the ministry were misused to import rice from Vietnam illegally. Presidential spokesman Julian Aldrin Pasha said Gita was not connected to the case.


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