Appointing Ambassadors – How it works in the Indonesian context

I noticed a recent media article that named the next Australian Ambassador to Indonesia. This was noteworthy in that there is in practice a lengthy process that needs to be followed before any appointment can be confirmed, and the current Ambassador, Gary Quinlan, remains in the role until mid 2021.


Ambassador Quinlan was temporarily relocated to Australia in April as a precautionary measure while Indonesia started to grapple with a fast rise in coronavirus cases and deaths. (He was certainly not withdrawn from the role, and our relationship is in fine shape.)

The placement of a new Ambassador or diplomatic head of mission is not as straightforward as an appointment to a regular position. Most notably, the proposed candidate needs to be accepted by the other side. Under normal circumstances this is also straightforward. However, even when relations are solid, issues  can arise.

For example in the mid-1990s during the Soeharto-Keating period of very warm relations the presumptive new ambassador from Indonesia to Australia created such a stir that the selected candidate was ultimately withdrawn. Soon after,  the candidate proposed to be Australia’s next ambassador to Indonesia faced the diplomatic equivalent of a diplomatic tit for tat and also had to be withdrawn. In essence the appointments of ambassadors can be tricky and require well-crafted stewardship.

In the case of appointments to Indonesia the issue became more complex when the law on the legislatures mandated that the House of Representative (DPR) endorse the placement of foreign ambassadors to Indonesia as well as the appointment of Indonesian ambassadors overseas. In recent versions of this law this authority to “veto” has been replaced to having to be informed by the Indonesian government but with the opportunity to “comment” should MPS so desire. This means that the Indonesian Parliament remains an ”X” factor in any proposed development.

While we expect that the process will be smooth, it is also rather too early to consider it final at this very early stage, especially while the current Ambassador remains fully engaged. One could be forgiven if I could tweak Twain, to conclude that this is a case of “news of my replacement has been greatly exaggerated”.

Picture of Kevin Evans

Indonesia Director
The Australia-Indonesia Centre

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