Indonesian Minister Wirjawan Resigns to Run in Election

Indonesian Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan resigned to pursue his bid to become the next president of Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.

Wirjawan will face at least 10 other candidates, including current President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s brother-in-law, in a primary to lead the ruling Democratic Party into the July election.

My resignation “is based on my intention to focus on the political process which is my participation in the convention with the conviction and my wish to win the convention,” he said at a press conference in Jakarta today.

The primary winner may face an uphill battle to revive the party’s fortunes and lead it to a third-straight presidential win, with three senior party officials facing graft charges in the past two years and Yudhoyono’s legacy of economic stability threatened by a sliding rupiah and rising interest rates.

Wirjawan said that he had asked Yudhoyono permission to resign several times. He declined to speculate on a possible successor as trade minister, saying it was up to the president to choose his replacement.

Wirjawan, 48, was president of JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Indonesian unit for two years until 2008. He oversaw record foreign direct investment as chief of the investment board before becoming trade minister. He installed a piano in the ministry’s foyer and occasionally plays jazz. He pledged today to have more non-politicians in his government if he won the election.

Poverty Rates

Under the administration of Yudhoyono, the budget shortfall has stayed under 3 percent of gross domestic product, unemployment and poverty rates have fallen, and the country has achieved an investment-grade rating. The country’s trade surplus reached a record in November, a result of monetary policy tightening, and government curbs on imports of some commodities.

Still, corruptions scandals, rising interest rates, project delays caused by land disputes and slowing economic growth have damped support for the Democrats.

Wirjawan said he would reach out to the growing number of Indonesians who don’t vote. They are “the biggest party and most of them are young people, young women.”

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