As jockeying intensifies for ministerial appointments in President-elect Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo's new cabinet, divisions and dissatisfaction within Indonesia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs have played out in a very public fashion.
In a riveting if unedifying spectacle, Indonesia's press has carried tit for tat analysis and commentary both supporting, but mostly intensely critical of, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa.
The criticisms (which are strangely reminiscent of those leveled against a certain former Australian foreign minister) accuse Natalegawa of narcissism, poor management, insecurity and general disdain for peers and colleagues.
It was a Jakarta Globe article on 14 August lauding Natalegawa's performance and supporting his appointment to Jokowi's cabinet that provoked the torrent of online criticism. In response, recently retired ambassador to Switzerland Djoko Susilo condemned Natalegawa's record in a piece titled 'The death of reforms in the foreign ministry'. The Ministry's Secretary-General, Kristiarto Legowo, was then compelled to defend Natalegawa's record, which only attracted more negative revelations.
Indeed, Susilo's criticisms cannot be easily dismissed. A former journalist, he was also head of Commission I, responsible for overseeing information, defence and foreign affairs in Indonesia's parliament. As a legislator, Susilo gained respect as an ardent promoter of democratic values in Indonesia's foreign policy.
Among the most damaging of Susilo's criticisms was that Natalegawa had overseen the death of innovation and reform in the Foreign Ministry instituted by his predecessor, Hassan Wirajuda. Appointed by President Megawati Soekarnoputri in the early stages of Indonesia's democratic transition, Wirajuda initiated a substantial legislative, organisational and ideational reform. He transformed a foreign policy-making culture constrained by the military's political influence and concentration of authority in autocratic President Suharto into one which better reflected the values of Indonesia's 'reformasi' experience.
In short, Hassan Wirajuda was an entrepreneur of new ideas who partnered with his cabinet colleagues, key legislators and subordinates to drive a new normative agenda in ASEAN and transform Indonesia's foreign policy making culture.
How does this contrast with Natalegawa?
On balance, Natalegawa has been an erudite and effective foreign minister who has worked hard to champion Indonesia's interests abroad. Key among his recent accomplishments was his success in reaching a consensus following the 2012 Phnom Penh ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, which dissolved in acrimony over South China Sea tensions.
Natalegawa has kept China talking on a South China Sea Code of Conduct and ably articulated Indonesia's vision for the regional order based on his 'dynamic equilibrium' doctrine. In 2011, as ASEAN Chair, he led a highly successful year of Indonesian diplomacy in the signing of Bali Concord III and Indonesia's chairing of an expanded East Asia Summit incorporating the US and Russia.
Unfortunately for Natalegawa, however, it seems his legacy will be clouded by staff perceptions of an idiosyncratic personality who arbitrarily implemented budget cuts.
In the end, the public expressions of frustration witnessed in the media in recent weeks cannot go unheeded byJokowi's transition team. Natalegawa's shortcomings, already well-known among Jakarta's foreign policy community, will work against him. This will improve the chances of other foreign ministerial contenders. Arif Havas Oegroseno, an international law expert and proven negotiator on maritime boundary issues, is reportedly a strong favourite.
Beyond the speculation about ministerial positions, however, there are broader lessons in the public flagellation of Natalegawa. In an era of greater transparency and prolific social media use, it looks like the performance of Indonesia's ministers and senior bureaucrats will not be judged only in the court of public opinion, but increasingly by peers and subordinates.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user The Official CTBTO Photostream.