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  • Managing Indonesia’s Transformation: An Oral History by Ginandjar Kartasasmita
  • Colin Brown (bio)
Ginandjar Kartasasmita. Managing Indonesia’s Transformation: An Oral History. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing, 2013. 480 pp.

For over three decades, Ginandjar Kartasasmita stood at or near the center of political and economic decision-making in Indonesia. Having graduated from the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology in 1965, he returned to Indonesia and joined the air force, rising steadily through the ranks until his retirement in 1994 as a vice marshal.

But it is his career as a bureaucrat and politician for which he is better known, and which is the focus of this book. He served as a senior bureaucrat or a minister under Suharto and Habibie. He was, at various times, head of the National Development Planning Agency (Badan Perencanaan Pembangunan Nasional, BAPPENAS), Minister for Mines and Energy, and twice Coordinating Minister for Economic, Financial, and Industrial Affairs. He sat in the People’s Consultative Assembly (Majelis Permusyawaratan Rakyat, MPR) where he represented the armed forces faction, chairing that faction from 1997 to 2002. He was the inaugural chair of the Regional Representative Council (Dewan Perwakilan Daerah, DPD) of the Indonesian Parliament when that body was established in 2004. He retired from office in 2009, but remains a member of the Presidential Advisory Council under Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY). In mid-2013, he was even being talked about as a potential vice-presidential candidate for 2014.

Ginandjar was thus in the thick of things through several crucial parts of Indonesia’s modern history. As such, this book promises much. It delivers, however, rather less. Described by its subtitle as An Oral History, this book consists of edited transcripts of lengthy interviews Ginandjar conducted with a team of Japanese scholars led by Takashi Shiraishi. The interviews were conducted in English, with, we are told, the occasional interpellation in Indonesia and Japanese, a language in which Ginandjar is apparently fluent. The Japanese connection is clearly important to Ginandjar.

We can draw some useful information about Ginandjar from these questions and answers. He makes it clear, for instance, that he is an admirer of Habibie, Mega, and Jusuf Kalla, but critical of Gus Dur and Aburizal Bakrie.1 He argues—I think rather persuasively—that history will treat Habibie’s record as president better than most of his contemporaries did. He is much more sympathetic to Habibie’s brand of political Islam, expressed through ICMI (Ikatan Cendekiawan Muslim Indonesia, Indonesian Association of Muslim Intellectuals), than that of Gus Dur—though Ginandjar says he would never vote for an Islamist party. [End Page 143]

Ginandjar is very proud of his efforts to support pribumi businesspeople, and to strengthen their capacity to compete with ethnic Chinese entrepreneurs; indeed, he wishes he had been more successful than he was. There is always a fine line to tread between support for pribumi as a disadvantaged group, and unthinking anti-Chinese sentiment. In places, I think Ginandjar gets very close to that line. He suggests, for instance, that the anti-Chinese elements of the May 1998 riots in Jakarta would have been much less had his pro-pribumi business policies been stronger. This seems to assume that the riots were a genuine outpouring of community resentment against ethnic Chinese, free of any degree of elite manipulation—hardly an interpretation that stands much critical scrutiny.

He is critical of the economic policies pursued by economist Widjojo Nitosastro and the technocrats. Nonetheless, he rejects John Bresnan’s characterization of him as a pro-protection nationalist as “grossly misinformed” (p. 74).2 Widjojo Nitosastro’s economic nationalism, Ginandjar says, was not directed at protecting the economy, but rather at industrializing it. Ginandjar stands for a strong government-owned sector, but with the caveat that it would have to work efficiently.

In other places, though, Ginandjar’s discussion of issues does not add much to what we already know. His discussion of the economic crisis that started in 1997, for instance, which led to the fall of Suharto the following year and the independence referendum in East Timor the year after that, gives us perhaps a few more details of what happened, particularly on a...


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pp. 143-146
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