When Donald Trump was furiously contesting his election defeat within the courts, the then US president nonetheless discovered time for at the least one overseas customer to the Oval Workplace.
Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, Indonesia’s minister for maritime affairs and funding, was given the crimson carpet remedy by the Trump household late final 12 months, extracting what he claimed was a promise of $2bn in funding for Indonesia’s first sovereign wealth fund.
The obvious monetary backing may be moot, following Mr Trump’s departure from workplace final week. However for Indonesians, the episode underlined the exceptional networking capacity of considered one of south-east Asia’s main political dealmakers, who has develop into Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s “minister of all the pieces”.
From elevating funds for the sovereign wealth fund to coordinating one of many world’s largest vaccination programmes, the mustachioed former normal has develop into the federal government’s Mr Fixit.
“President Jokowi stays the primary political determine by way of palace politics and cupboard day-to-day actions,” stated Philips Vermonte, govt director at CSIS Indonesia, a think-tank. “However Pak [Mr] Luhut is a fixer, a doer. No matter activity is given to him, he appears to have the ability to ship.”
A Christian born on the island of Sumatra, he noticed fight as a younger officer through the 1975 invasion of the previous Portuguese colony of East Timor by the late Indonesian dictator Suharto. Now 73, he as soon as described how a few of his males had dirty their trousers as they ready to parachute into the capital, Dili, kicking off a warfare that value an estimated 100,000 lives.
Mr Pandjaitan rose to normal and have become a minister after Indonesia began its transition to democracy in 1998, earlier than leaving politics to arrange his personal enterprise. His pursuits embrace timber, property, palm oil, coal mining and power.
In 2008, he met Mr Widodo, then a metropolis mayor, and helped finance his victorious presidential election marketing campaign in 2014. Two years later, whereas he was briefly minister of mines and power, he offered a controlling stake in his coal unit, Toba Bara, for an undisclosed quantity to a Singapore-based firm whose final patrons stay unidentified.
The dearth of particulars on the sale “has left unanswered questions that are an essential matter of public curiosity”, stated Global Witness, a campaign group. The ministry of maritime affairs and funding stated the patrons are “a non-related celebration to Mr Pandjaitan and/or Toba”.
Mr Widodo, who got here to energy promising to deal with Indonesia’s endemic corruption, has continued to load Mr Pandjaitan with new obligations all through. Not solely is the ex-general concerned within the vaccine drive and the sovereign wealth fund, he’s additionally courting traders for a deliberate $31bn new capital city.
On the worldwide stage, Mr Pandjaitan was pictured in October tapping elbows with Wang Yi, China’s overseas affairs minister, as Jakarta sought Chinese language vaccines. Solely a 12 months earlier, he had led Indonesia’s response to the incursion of Chinese language fishing boats in waters claimed by Jakarta close to the South China Sea.
Fluent in English after finding out within the US, the previous normal’s reference to the Trump administration is thru Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law, whom he met on the White Home at the least two years in the past. “We maintained this [relationship] so we are able to discuss over the cellphone or perhaps [on] WhatsApp,” Mr Pandjaitan informed the Monetary Occasions final 12 months.
The dialogue between the pair turned “the primary bilateral relationship between DC and Jakarta”, stated Aaron Connelly, a analysis fellow on the Worldwide Institute for Strategic Research, a think-tank.
Mr Trump’s household additionally has enterprise pursuits in Indonesia. Donald Trump Jr, the previous president’s son and govt vice-president of the Trump Group, final 12 months launched two Trump-branded resorts within the south-east Asian nation.
It stays to be seen, nonetheless, whether or not Mr Pandjaitan will have the ability to replicate these shut ties with the White Home beneath Joe Biden, the US’s new president.
And for all Mr Pandjaitan’s rising standing, analysts say he most likely won’t ever be president of Indonesia. The Muslim majority nation can be unlikely to vote for a Christian chief.
However so long as Mr Widodo is in energy, he’s anticipated to be the president’s de facto prime minister, with cameo roles in defence, overseas affairs and worldwide funding.
“I believe for him it’s only a energy factor,” stated an Indonesian politician who’s conversant in Mr Pandjaitan. “Proper now he can have numerous energy with out actually enjoying the politics of it . . . That’s the place he needs to be.”