Indonesia’s Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti was an airline and seafood export mogul before being appointed to President Joko Widodo’s Cabinet in October 2014.
Pudjiastuti, a heavy-smoking, tattooed divorcee who never finished high school (she calls herself the minister “with the lowest educational background” stands out in often conservative Indonesia. When she entered Parliament as one of eight women in Cabinet, many conservatives criticised her for being divorced, tattooed and a smoker. There were even rumors for weeks in the halls of parliament that Jokowi was under pressure to dump her from cabinet in a reshuffle he announced in late July.
But, since joining the government, surveys show she is one of Indonesia’s most popular ministers and an Indonesian Twitter darling. Her images often go viral and many want her to run for president.
Viral images of Susi where she effortlessly strikes a yoga pose and kicking back with a coffee cigarette on a paddle board.
As Maritime and Fishiries Minister, her portfolio matters to the economy: fishing along with farming and forestry makes up 14 percent of the Indonesian economy and employs millions of Indonesians. Indonesia is the world largest archipelago and Pudjiastuti said her crackdown had helped rejuvenate fish stocks, while the economy’s other drivers falter.
Since Pudjiastuti took the post Indonesia has destroyed around 240 boats, including some from China, which claims that waters surrounding the gas-rich Natuna Islands are part of its traditional fishing grounds.
To her critics who police her language Pudjiastuti, the entrepreneur and millionaire said, punctuating her words by repeatedly slapping her thigh and laughing in a raspy voice,”I mean what I say and I say what I mean. Diplomats are different. Diplomats never mean what they say and never say what they mean. I’m dealing with fish! I have fish language”.
Clearly Pudjiastuti came along way from being the high-school dropout who drove around trucks in Java buying fish, and shows no signs of being deterred by her critics.