News analysis

Tug of war in Jokowi's inner circle

Abrupt dismissal of energy minister shows rivalry between two influential camps

The abrupt sacking of Mr Arcandra Tahar from his post as Energy and Mineral Resources Minister shows the tug of war between two influential camps in President Joko Widodo's inner circle.

Mr Arcandra was dismissed on Monday, following revelations that he had become a naturalised United States citizen four years ago. He had resided in the US for 20 years before returning to Indonesia last month to take up his post.

One of the rival camps is led by State-owned Enterprises Minister Rini Soemarno, while the other is led by Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan.

Ms Rini gets full support from retired army general A.M. Hendropriyono, who was a key adviser in Mr Joko's presidential campaign. Holding the strategic ministry post that oversees 119 state-owned companies with billions of dollars of total assets, Ms Rini is believed to be able to greatly influence politicians in Parliament, including senior ones.

Mr Arcandra's entry into the Cabinet last month was the result of lobbying efforts from the Rini-Hendropriyono duo.

Mr Arcandra said he gave up his US citizenship before accepting the ministerial post. Indonesia, however, does not allow dual citizenship. Any Indonesian pledging allegiance to a foreign country automatically loses his Indonesian citizenship.

Mr Denny Indrayana, a state law expert, told The Jakarta Post that Mr Arcandra would have to undergo a process to regain Indonesian citizenship and that it would not be easy.

Mr Joko has appointed Mr Luhut, who is seen as the most effective minister in the Cabinet after helping to increase support for the President in Parliament, to temporarily fill Mr Arcandra's post.

Mr Luhut's assumption of Mr Arcandra's role is seen as boosting his standing, which had appeared to have slumped when he relinquished the post of Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs following the reshuffle last month.

As the Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs, Mr Luhut has to work closely with ministers who have strong links with the political elite. They include Tourism Affairs Minister Arief Yahya, a former CEO of a state-owned telco giant who is widely known to be close to Ms Rini, and Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti, a long-time friend of Ms Megawati Soekarnoputri, the chairman of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle, who has never been fully supportive of Mr Joko appointing Mr Luhut as a minister.

With the rivalry between the two camps, the President needs to keep the ministers' power in check, according to observers including Mr Muradi, who teaches at Padjadjaran University.

For Mr Hendropriyono and Mr Luhut, both are former army generals who are from different political factions - but both own family businesses that operate in the energy sector.

"In July, the pendulum swung towards Hendropriyono, and this time around it swung towards Luhut. This is part of Jokowi's power play to ensure that each of the two very powerful men would always rely on the President," Mr Muradi said, referring to Mr Joko's popular nickname.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2016, with the headline 'Tug of war in Jokowi's inner circle'. Print Edition | Subscribe