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Guiding two visions of Indonesia to 2024: One bright, one troubled

Jefferson Ng and Adhi Priamarizki / No Comments Share:
Indonesian President Joko Widodo (C) speaks at the inauguration ceremony in Jakarta, Indonesia, Oct. 20, 2019. (Xinhua/Pang Xinglei)

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo’s new cabinet welds two different visions of Indonesia together. One vision sees a bright future – for Indonesia to transform itself into a major economic power and bring prosperity to millions of Indonesians. Another vision looks at the near future – and it foresees troubled waters ahead.

The new cabinet is a balance between both visions. Fresh entrants and energetic individuals like former GO-JEK Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Nadiem Makarim, former NET TV CEO Wishnutama and Eric Thohrir, as well as steady hands such as Luhut B Pandjaitan (coordinating minister of Maritime Affairs and Investment) and Sri Mulyani (minister of finance), represent Jokowi’s (as the president is known) aspiration to promote economic stability and address human capital challenges for investments and businesses.

On the other hand, the inclusion of six ministers with military backgrounds and one minister with a police background reflect the continued reliance on security personnel and apparatus to address challenges on the horizon. Similarly, the inclusion of a hitherto unprecedented number of political party appointees signal the re-patrimonialisation of the state. Both developments hint at what the President considers to be major challenges in the next five years.


More political party pressure


Jokowi’s new cabinet (Kabinet Indonesia Maju: Indonesia Onwards Cabinet) is an inclusivist cabinet designed to co-opt major political factions to maintain political stability and safeguard the state. The 38 member cabinet comprises 18 political party appointees, two appointees (Tito Karnavian and Teten Masduki) who enjoy close ties to President Jokowi and the Indonesian Democratic of Struggle Party (PDI-P), as well as 18 non-party appointees.

The PDI-P takes the largest share with five ministerial positions, Golkar is allocated four ministerial positions, the National Democrats (Nasdem) and the National Awakening Party (PKB) are allocated three ministries each, the Gerindra Party holds two ministries and the United Development Party (PPP) one ministry.

The total number of political party appointees is equal or higher (18 plus two) than President Yudhoyono’s second term (18), indicating that Jokowi faces strong pressure from political parties to access state resources. Unlike the start of his first term, Jokowi is cognisant of the difficulties of governing without a political party that he controls.

As a result, he has opted to absorb and balance multiple competing factions, so that he will not be dominated by one set of interests.

Indeed, the prevailing political climate appears hostile – with the parliament pushing through controversial revisions to the Anti-Corruption Commission, as well as pressure from political parties for more cabinet positions. In late August 2019, the president was further reminded of his Achilles heel by a proposed constitutional amendment that will restore the power to determine state policy to the legislature.

Based on the cabinet representation, the original five-party government coalition along with Gerindra accounts for 74% of seats in the House of Representatives (DPR). Despite this large legislative majority, Jokowi cannot assume automatic support from the political parties, and policy transactionalism will likely dilute the effectiveness of Jokowi’s developmentalist agenda.


Reliance on Security Personnel


The recent knife-stabbing of ex-coordinating minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Wiranto is a reminder of the serious threat posed by Islamic radicalism in Indonesia. The new cabinet composition indicates that Jokowi is relying on security personnel to address these challenges.

The cabinet has six individuals from a military background and one minister from a police background. Three individuals stand out. First, Prabowo Subianto, Jokowi’s presidential rival, has joined Jokowi’s cabinet as the new minister of defence. Prabowo is charismatic and ambitious and now wields significant influence as both party chairman of the Gerindra Party (the third largest in parliament) and defence minister. He is a nationalist and may push for a more assertive defence policy, having repeatedly expressed his desire to build up Indonesia’s defence capabilities.

Second, the appointment of Fahrul Razi, a former deputy commander of the TNI, as the new minister of Religious Affairs, indicates potentially tougher measures and inter-ministerial coordination against Islamic radicalism. The portfolio is usually held by an individual with close ties with Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest Muslim organisation. Third, ex-police chief Tito Karnavian has been appointed as the minister of Home Affairs, who is well-placed to bring his expertise in terrorism and radicalisation to bear.


Potential Implications


The composition of the new cabinet reflects Jokowi’s assessment of the type of challenges that Indonesia will be facing in the next five years. Jokowi intends to accommodate oligarchic and party interests so that they will not veto his economic reform agenda, while his approach to addressing future terrorist and radical threats is heavily reliant on his security apparatus.

The concern is that allotting a large chunk of cabinet positions to political party appointees and powerful businessmen will perpetuate the continued dominance of established political parties and figures. Indeed, the new cabinet includes three political party chairmen – Airlangga Hartarto (Golkar), Prabowo Subianto (Gerindra) and Suharso Monoarfa (PPP).

This is balanced by the fact that some of the new ministers, such as Nadiem Makarim and Wishnutama, could potentially generate fresh ideas and inject new dynamism to politics and policymaking.

Ministerial posts also provide governing experience and name-recognition, which could open the field for more presidential race contenders in 2024.

President Jokowi has the difficult and unenviable task of steering Indonesia through troubled waters while keeping sight of the rainbow on the horizon.

The bottom line is that the gap between intentions and outcomes will depend on the ability to run a tight ship and bring about measured progress with an eye on the dangers ahead for Indonesia.


Jefferson Ng and Adhi Priamarizki are Senior Analyst and Visiting Fellow respectively at S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University. This first appeared in RSIS Commentaries

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