JAKARTA — On the face of it, Indonesian President Joko Widodo and his soon-to-be American counterpart U.S. President-elect Donald Trump could not be more dissimilar. Widodo, or “Jokowi” as he is known, is understated, self-effacing and wry, while Trump is abrasive, brash and loquacious. Before entering Indonesian politics, Widodo was a furniture exporter, while Trump, a real estate mogul, has long been one of the best-known U.S. businessmen. During a five-minute phone call on Nov. 28, it was reported that the two leaders hit it off. “It seems because both are lifelong businessmen they really connect well, there is good chemistry,” said Thomas Lembong, chairman of the Indonesia Investment Co-ordination Board, the government investment agency, speaking to media at the Forbes Global CEO Conference in Jakarta. “They had a very cordial telephone conversation,” added Lembong, who was Indonesia’s trade minister before a cabinet reshuffle in mid-2016. If true, the rapport between Trump and Widodo could offset any Indonesian disappointment over the incoming U.S. administration’s intention to ditch the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a far-reaching free trade pact between the U.S. and 11 other Asia-Pacific countries. Indonesia was not among the initial 12 signatories to TPP, but had wanted to join the bloc. In the wake of Trump’s announcement, Lembong said Jakarta would continue to try to liberalize its trading arrangements with other countries. “President Jokowi reaffirmed our commitment to free trade, to international investment. We are very committed to concluding our free trade agreements with the European Union, with Australia. Our economic agenda remains unchanged,” Lembong told the Nikkei Asian Review.
JAKARTA – Indonesian President Joko Widodo fired five ministers and transferred one in a long expected cabinet reshuffle announced Wednesday afternoon. Trade Minister Rachmat Gobel was replaced by Thomas Lembong, a Harvard graduate and former investment banker. Coordinating Economic Minister Sofyan Djalil was replaced by Darmin Nasution, the central bank governor from 2010 to 2013. Djalil’s new post is minister of national development planning. The appointment of Nasution and Lembong has been welcomed by those who feared party hacks might be appointed based on political connections. “As a former central bank governor, [Nasution] knows very well the fiscal and macroeconomic matters that need to be addressed,” said Djayadi Hanan, executive director at Saiful Mujani, a Jakarta political consultancy. Gobel’s decision to slash cattle imports led to beef prices surging and protests from consumers already struggling with a sliding rupiah and growing inflation.”It is no surprise that the trade minister was replaced,” said Yohanes Sulaiman, a lecturer at the Indonesian National Defense University. “Many business people said he was incompetent.”