Yanto Soegiarto and Albertus Weldison Nonto
Former Vice President Jusuf Kalla was as vigorous as ever when GlobeAsia reached him at his office one Friday afternoon for an exclusive interview.
Indonesia’s former second man in the government keeps a hectic schedule. He shuttles back and forth from Jakarta to his hometown of Makassar, South Sulawesi and, the day GlobeAsia managed to pin him down, he was due to leave to preside over a ceremony marking the entry of the Komodo into the list of New 7 Wonders of the world at Taman Mini Indonesia in East Jakarta.
As well as being busy, Jusuf Kalla is also known for his media savvy. He answered questions ranging from running the country, politics, doing business, to the delicate problem of Indonesia’s easternmost provinces of Papua and West Papua.
“It’s all about leadership. If the nation is facing many problems, we have to solve them. We have to seek the solution. And we have to be quick in making decisions although they may be unpopular. All decisions contain risks and we must be daring to take that risk. Leadership means providing welfare and justice to the people,” he said.
Known to many Indonesians as simply JK, he admits that championing the cause of Komodo National Park in the competition as a new wonder of the world has once again boosted his media presence. His involvement, he says, was no calculated campaign but merely a desire to help alleviate poverty in the least developed province of Indonesia, East Nusa Tenggara (NTT).
“It’s not just about the komodo or the Komodo National Park. I agreed to be ambassador of the campaign on the grounds that the komodo will be the next icon that symbolizes the development of NTT in general and tourism specifically.
“NTT is the poorest province in Indonesia, even if compared to Papua. So we must pay attention to the province. I don’t have any political agenda in this,” he insists.
The key to the success of the campaign was sincerity to fight for the national interest rather than individual and group interest. With clear goals, he says, all the people will become supporters.
“People may see the Komodo for one hour while the rest of the time they will spend on nearby islands. Hotels and restaurant businesses will be flourishing in other parts of Flores,” he argues.
Local newspapers praised JK’s bid and called the Komodo campaign a “phenomena of people power.” The former vice president’s rising popularity has drawn headlines and public opinion is crystallizing around the reality that he has indeed played a pivotal role in developing eastern Indonesia.
As a person who was born and lived for much of his life in the east of the country, JK believes that in general for the past decade, the region has seen higher economic growth than the western part of Indonesia. In his view, growth in western Indonesia was mostly contributed by the largest corporations.
This is different with eastern Indonesia where growth is mainly driven by local businesses on a small scale. In his record, East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) province is the region with the least growth. “This was why the komodo campaign will become a momentum to make economic activities in the region flourish,” he believes.
Jusuf Kalla, without doubt, remains a figure to be counted in the power game in Indonesia. Wherever he goes, people enthusiastically flock to him just to have an opportunity for a photograph with him. At his office at the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) headquarters, before or after prayers each Friday, young politicians meet with him to discuss current affairs or to look for answers or solutions to the problems in Indonesia. “He is still in power, but not in the real game,” says one.
Prominent political analyst Sukardi Rinakit said that Jusuf Kalla’s touch inevitably gets things done once and for all. “He has clear and achievable targets. He has carved his name as a symbol of good leadership. Anything will be solved if he handles it.
“Personally, I think he is better off being the chairman of PMI. I think he should have time to rest with his family and grandchildren. I wouldn’t nominate him for the presidency because he is more respected with his position now. He commands respect anyway. He is even more respected than the president,” Sukardi told GlobeAsia.
After JK left the vice-presidential office in 2009, he was still involved in state affairs in what he said was part of his contribution to the republic. Each time criticism of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) mounts due to his slow management style, people inevitably think back to JK and his quick thinking, straightforwardness and decisiveness in making important decisions.
Former Muhammadiyah chairman Safi’i Ma’arif at one time called JK “the real president” for his decisiveness while others recalled his speed in grabbing business opportunities. Most Indonesians still remember JK’s campaign tagline “the faster the better” during the 2009 presidential election, and often contrast what he might have delivered with the current administration’s slow pace.
“Government has to make decisions, if there is problem then fix it. If it is because of corruption then the law should be enforced. If it is a financial problem, then we have to rethink the policy. If it was because of our subsidy policy, then we have to review it,” JK states, adding that opportunities don’t last very long.
JK was also decisive in renegotiating a gas trading contract with China. A GlobeAsia source close to him says that even giant foreign multinational companies respected JK’s stance.
“Even Exxon bowed to his clear stance to defend Indonesia’s interest in the international negotiation on the Natuna Block. JK gave strong reasons why we had to be decisive to defend our national interest. Our counterparts will understand and respect us,” the source notes.
Many Indonesians have been inspired by JK’s leadership. He has been involved in resolution of some crucial social and political conflicts. In the past, JK was a leading member of teams working to solve ethnic, religious and separatist conflicts in Aceh, Poso in Central Sulawesi and Maluku.
“I am still dealing with those issues sometimes and I have to visit the conflict areas as a consequence of my position as Indonesia’s Red Cross (PMI) head,” he states.
Certainly not Javanese
For most people, and especially the Javanese ethnic group, JK’s style is uncommon. For them, a leader should be calm, less reactive and less impulsive in responding to something, even if it is tough criticism.
In response to this view of his way of dealing with issues, JK says the perception is normal because of Indonesia’s diversity. But, he says, someone has to demonstrate decisiveness and a quick response instead of the typical lack of punctuality in decision-making. He also asks people to think positively to see the role of culture in social and political life.
For one family in Kudus, Central Java who voted for JK and Wiranto at the last general election, the competence factor is more important than the ethnic factor. Another voter in Bogor, West Java, says he now believes that it was JK who did the serious work when he was vice president.
“We were a little bit disappointed because we made the wrong decision in the last election and didn’t vote for him. But the show must go on. Who knows, JK may run for the presidency in 2014,” says the Bogor resident.
JK notes that the discussion of national interests must be done in a clear and transparent way. “We cannot lead this country by only relying on local manners, cultures and values,” he stresses.
“One has to differentiate between manners and culture. This principle also applies when discussing the latest issue in Papua. We challenge the opposing parties to see the problem in Papua in a different perspective. We have to be get used to talk transparently on something that is related to national affairs,” he insists.
In his view there has been a long misunderstanding of what is happening, while Papuans see Jakarta as robbing their natural resources. “This is untrue because Jakarta has given more to the Papuan people with special autonomy and a very large budget every year. Everything has been given to Papua except for independence,” JK states.
He may not be in the center of Indonesia’s ring of power but he routinely discusses many issues about national affairs with President SBY. He claims he often has the chance to meet the president to raise his concerns over many sectors, such as energy, climate, food security and other major issues.
“We don’t talk about real politics,” he adds, noting that as a senior member of Golkar Party, he is on good terms with various political parties and figures in Indonesia, including Indonesian Democratic Party of Indonesia (PDI-P) chairwoman Megawati Sukarnoputri.
Some junior politicians from across the political spectrum see him as a mentor. “He makes everything real and easy to achieve,” says one lawmaker who spoke on condition of anonymity.
As a politician, JK stresses the importance of political ethics. This is the reason he defended SBY over his meeting with former finance minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati on November 8.
His more than eight-year friendship with SBY began when they served together in the cabinets of Abdurrahman Wahid and Megawati. Anytime, he can call SBY to give input or even to criticize his policy.
Jusuf Kalla was born on 15 May 1942 in Watampone, South Sulawesi, from a traditional business family trading in silk and commodities in Makassar. The family business then expanded into many sectors, such as shipping, property, trading, engineering, an automotive dealership, hotel industry, construction, real estate, transportation, a shrimp farm, oil palm, telecommunications and power plants.
One if the group’s subsidiaries, PT Bukaka Teknik Utama, has been a leading player in engineering and construction. The company is best known to the public for the air bridges – garbarata – it builds to connect airport to aircraft which are used in a number of ASEAN countries.
PT Bukaka Teknik will also build Makassar’s first mass transit system, helping the South Sulawesi capital on its way to becoming an international hub. “We appreciate Pak JK’s efforts and involvement. It’s a matter of history,” says South Sulawesi Governor Syahrul Yasin Limpo.
Makassar Mayor Ilham Arief Sirajuddin is another fan. He states that the signing of the MoU on the construction of the mass transportation system marks an important step in the history of the city. “Makassar will have the first mass transit system in Indonesia,” he told GlobeAsia proudly.
Solihin Kalla, JK’s youngest son and business development director at the Kalla Group, says Makassar will become a metropolitan city and that building the mass transit system will not be too expensive as it will not require land clearance. “We will invest around Rp 4 trillion to build the infrastructure for the mass transit system. The project will commence in 2012,” he promises.
JK himself notes that he has not been involved in the day-to-day business of the group for more than 10 years. As the second generation leader of NV Hadji Kalla, he still makes important decisions on new businesses that the group sees as prospective.
Lately the group has been working in the energy business, producing hydropower in Poso, Central Sulawesi, with a number of other projects under construction for a total of more than 1,000 MW in output.
Early political leanings
JK forged his political career from a young age. He attended the University of Hasanuddin in Makassar and in 1967 graduated from its economics faculty. In 1977, he graduated from INSEAD, the international business school in Fontainebleau, France.
He headed the Makassar branch of the Islamic Student Association (HMI) from 1965-1966 and the government-sponsored student movement Unity of Action of Indonesia’s Student (KAMMI).
Soon after Golkar was established in 1965, he joined the organization and chaired the youth division of the Makassar branch. This led him to become a member of the regional assembly for a spell.
Since 1982 he has played at the national level, becoming a member of the Golkar advisory board and a member of the People’s Constituent Assembly (MPR) up until 1987. In 2004 he was elected Golkar chairman. Already elected as vice president on a ticket with SBY, he was able to use the weight that lent him to grab the top party post.
“I am just an ordinary member in Golkar, but of course with a special position as a former chairman,” he says wryly.
From 1979 to 1989, he was chairman of the Indonesian Economics Graduates Association (ISEI). He was also extensively involved with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin) and from 1985 to 1998 he was its chairman for South Sulawesi and coordinator for Kadin in eastern Indonesia.
Today he is on the board of trustees of three universities in Makassar and was a major force in the construction of the Al Markaz Mosque, where he is chairman of its Islamic center. He once led the inter-faith and religion forum in Makassar.
He plays golf twice a week and sometimes swims with friends and family members. In the past he chaired football club Persatuan Sepak Bola Makassar (PSM) and owned a small club, Makassar Utama.
A powerful and influential figure during his vice presidency, JK was sometimes seen as a rival of SBY. Following the Aceh tsunami JK – apparently on his own initiative – assembled the ministers and signed a vice-presidential decree ordering work to begin on rehabilitating the devastated region. The legality of the decree was questioned although SBY maintained that it was he who gave the orders for JK to proceed.
His career after his term as vice president ended has included many social activities. At the end of 2009 he was elected to become chairman of the Indonesian Red Cross (Palang Merah Indonesia, PMI). He promised to improve the national blood stock to prepare for any increased demand for blood by hospital patients and victims of natural disasters.
Married to Mufidah, the couple has five children, most of them active in running the family business. GA