With his new cabinet, Indonesia’s president Jokowi prioritises national stability over everything else

Mast Irham/EPA

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Vice President Ma'ruf Amin have announced Indonesia’s cabinet ministers for the 2019-2024 administration.

After a vicious rivalry for office, Jokowi gave his political opponent a seat in his cabinet as defence minister, one out of 16 positions given to political parties. Six ministers are from the military. And 18 ministers are from non-political parties.

In his previous term, Jokowi’s cabinet also consists of 34 ministries, with 15 ministers from political parties and 19 from non-political parties.

By giving minister positions to both supporting and opposing parties, Jokowi seems to want to consolidate political power in his second government period.

We asked experts to analyse Jokowi’s choices of ministers.


Balancing political power

Justino Adiprasetio - Lecturer in journalism and mass communication at Universitas Padjadjaran

In this cabinet, Jokowi is trying to gather as much political power as possible. This move strongly reflects the Javanese power model of achieving harmony and balance.

Jokowi is making a bold and risky step by giving Prabowo the defence minister position. Prabowo, who has been Jokowi’s arch-rival in the past elections is a former military general with checkered human rights records.

Jokowi risks losing trust from the public, especially voters who do not want Prabowo in power. Jokowi also risks creating tension in the cabinet due to their historical rivalry.

For instance, we can imagine Jokowi firing underperforming ministers from outside his party, but can we imagine Jokowi expelling Prabowo?

Appointing Fachrul Razi (a graduate of the Indonesian Armed Forces Academy) as religious affairs minister as a counterweight to Prabowo is the most evident example of Jokowi’s efforts to achieve ‘balance’.

Fachrul was once the deputy chairman of the Council of Honorary Officers (DKP) who recommended the dismissal of Prabowo in 1998 - among them for ordering the abduction of pro-democracy activists.

Bringing in professionals is another example of Jokowi’s effort to find a new balance, both internally and externally.

The appointment of new figures from the business world, such as Gojek CEO Nadiem Makarim as Minister of Education and Culture, NET. TV CEO Wishnutama as Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy, and founder of the Mahaka business group Erick Thohir as Minister of State Enterprise is expected to be responded positively by the public.

Economy, not democracy

Juwita Hayyuning Prastiwi - Lecturer in political science at Universitas Brawijaya.

With his choice of cabinet ministers to include professionals from the business world, Jokowi’s is signalling a focus on economic development.

The presence of these professionals might also be Jokowi’s move to avoid conflicts of interest between political parties.

Promoting democracy through the protection of civil liberties and political freedom does not seem to be a consideration in the process of drafting this cabinet.

Prabowo’s appointment as defence minister might cool the political divisions of society that have occurred since 2014. But, having Prabowo and his party in Jokowi’s government means Jokowi has no political opponents who will question and examine his policies.

The country’s political elites have united, both in the legislative and executive branches in the Jokowi government.

With the joining of Gerindra, the composition of legislative seat support for the Jokowi government is 427 seats out of a total of 575 seats. Based on this number, Jokowi’s policies may not get sufficient input and criticism from the parliament.

The weakening of oversight functions of political parties can threaten the country’s liberal democracy. In Jokowi’s first period, political elites banded together to pass the controversial revision of the Law on Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).

For the sake of political stability

Muhammad Ryan Sanjaya - Lecturer in economics and business Universitas Gadjah Mada

Jokowi’s new cabinet composition has enormous political power. His coalition for the election held 61% of the parliament vote. With Gerindra part of the government coalition, his coalition has grown to keep 74% of the vote. Jokowi has strong political support both in the cabinet and in the House of Representatives.

Just like in the previous period, Jokowi’s choice of new cabinet ministers seems to show a balance between his practical objectives and political aims.

The composition of the new cabinet is 53% from professionals and 47% from political parties.

The difference is this time Jokowi seems to prioritise political stability above institutional strengthening and the rule of law.

Although Jokowi has strong support in the cabinet and the parliament, there is no apparent political will from Jokowi and his supporting parties to strengthen institutions and the rule of law.

This is unfortunate as the foundation for the achievement of the country’s goals as reflected in the Preamble to the 1945 Constitution, for example, protecting all the people of Indonesia and creating social justice. Additionally, they do not require enormous fiscal resources.

This article was originally published in Indonesian