Jokowi's relations with ruling party hit low point amid claims administration gives strategic posts to outsiders

The strained relations between Indonesian President Joko Widodo and his party have been revealed in the impending mayoral races.
The strained relations between Indonesian President Joko Widodo and his party have been revealed in the impending mayoral races.PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA - The mercurial relations between President Joko Widodo and the elites of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) have again hit a low point - this time over the appointment of non-party figures to the notoriously high-paying senior management posts in numerous state-owned enterprises.

Party elites have recently mounted attacks on Twitter and WhatsApp against Mr Erick Thohir, who headed Mr Joko's re-election campaign team in 2019.

The 50-year-old media and sports tycoon, now minister of state-owned enterprises, is not a party cadre but was widely credited for successfully organising the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia.

PDI-P leader Adian Napitupulu has been the most vocal in voicing his disappointment. He especially took issue with Mr Erick's failure to make good on his boss' promise to appoint supporters and PDI-P cadres to senior posts in state-owned enterprises and other strategic posts such as special staff to ministers.

The Straits Times understands that Mr Adian submitted a list of about 30 candidates in October 2019 to State Secretary Pratikno, who then handed it over to Mr Erick. Mr Adian said none of his nominees was ever called in.

Rancour grew in PDI-P when Mr Erick gave several sought-after posts to former colleagues who helped him organise the 2018 Asian Games, including someone from a political party outside the ruling coalition.

Top positions in state-owned companies in Indonesia have long been filled by both professionals and figures affiliated with the ruling party. Many of these corporate posts pay higher salaries than Cabinet ministers.

The portion that goes to political parties should be reserved for the people who campaigned for Mr Joko in the last election, as these people who supported his ideas and visions would be in the best position to ensure all his programmes materialise, Mr Adian argued.

The ministry of state-owned enterprise's spokesman Arya Sinulingga told ST that input from various interest groups are welcome, but stressed that his boss has to take a professional stance in making appointments.

Political observers, including Mr Ali Nurdin of the Mathla'ul Anwar University in West Java, agree.

"Every political party should let all its cadres who hold any position in the government be oriented with the people's and nation's interest, not be held hostage with the political party's interest," Mr Ali said.

 
 

The strained relations between Mr Joko and his party have also been revealed in the impending mayoral races in Solo, Central Java and in Medan, North Sumatra, with elections set for Dec 9.

Mr Joko's son Gibran Rakabuming Raka and son-in-law Bobby Nasution will contest in Solo and Medan respectively. Both have received a pledge of support from Prabowo Subianto's Gerindra party, while PDI-P is yet to make a decision whom it is supporting in these two cities.

Mr Prabowo has been touted to run again in the 2024 presidential election and it is not impossible he would contest against a candidate from PDI-P. Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo is said to be among possible candidates PDI-P may field in the election.

Political analyst Firman Manan of the University of Padjadjaran said the relations between Mr Joko and PDI-P have not always been smooth partly because Mr Joko has never held any strategic post within the party.

Past presidents like Ms Megawati Soekarnoputri, Mr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and the late Mr Abdurrahman Wahid were chairmen or ranking members of their respective parties.

Mr Firman referred to a 2016 spat when then police general Budi Gunawan, a PDI-P proposed candidate for the national police chief post, was rejected by Mr Joko.

"On the surface, we are still seeing tension now, but eventually they will settle it. Last term, Jokowi rejected Budi Gunawan. Things turned ugly, but then they settled it and Budi Gunawan was appointed chief of Indonesia's intelligence unit," he said.