Indonesia’s Mr Fix-it has his work cut out
Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan is one of the most powerful men in Indonesia, leveraging his successes in the military and business to become the president’s key fixer. Will that influence be parleyed into the presidency in 2024?
To Indonesians, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan is the minister of everything, or menteri seganlanya in the country’s official Bahasa Indonesia.
The term is deployed by detractors and admirers in equal measure. Even though Luhut’s official cabinet job is coordinating minister for maritime affairs and investment, as with most nicknames, there’s much truth about it.
From defence and security to public health and the restoration of confidence in the pandemic-ravaged economy, Luhut has his fingers in many pies. He is Indonesia’s Mr Fix-it, a trouble-shooter ready, willing and able to be thrown at any problem, as his boss, old friend and former business partner president Joko Widodo, or ‘Jokowi’, frequently does.
As a former cabinet minister from the era of president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono tells Asiamoney: “The boss listens to two people: one is Luhut, the other is Erick Thohir”, the businessman-cum-technocrat in charge of state-owned enterprises reform.
Another former cabinet minister remarks that “Pak [Mr] Luhut is the prime minister we don’t have.”
Luhut’s CV includes roles in the now-delayed $40 billion plan to build a new capital city in Kalimantan, the creation of Indonesia’s sovereign wealth fund, the fight against terrorism and the response to the pandemic.