Easygoing and amiable, 41-year-old Mari Pangestu doesn't act like a revolutionary. Yet she was a key player in the overthrow of the Suharto regime. As executive director of the Center for Strategic & International Studies, Indonesia's most independent think tank, Pangestu analyzed for the World Bank the way Suharto-linked monopolies hobbled the economy. Her research heavily influenced the International Monetary Fund's decision to call for an end to these monopolies as a precondition for extending aid. Suharto's failure to implement that package led to economic chaos, popular upheaval, and his own resignation. And even when the army sent hundreds of youths to demonstrate outside the center last February, Pangestu never stopped arguing publicly for Suharto's ouster.
Pangestu, a seventh-generation ethnic Chinese in a country where the Chinese are often resented, also stood her ground while colleagues fled the country in fear. Now, she vows to continue to speak out because Indonesia has not yet contained cronyism, not by a long shot. Many observers see Pangestu as a strong contender for the post of Finance Minister in whatever government succeeds that of President B.J. Habibie. But she insists she would refuse the post on grounds that she's more effective "on the outside," where she can speak more freely.
Indeed, Pangestu is already seeing some of her recommendations put into action, including the dismantling of crony monopolies and conglomerates that are run by Suharto's children. Yet there are other reasons why Pangestu does not think that now is the ideal time for her to learn the rough trade of governing. If there's one thought that scares her, it's serving as Finance Minister of a country whose economy she believes will contract by 20% and see 100% inflation this year. "I don't think I'm cut out for that. I'm not tough enough," she says. Many observers, however, disagree.