All eyes on Indonesian President Joko's new Cabinet

After a resounding official win at Indonesia's presidential polls, all eyes are on who Mr Joko Widodo will pick to fill his Cabinet and how boldly he will make his choices. PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA - Now that Mr Joko Widodo's resounding win at Indonesia's presidential polls in April is official, all eyes are on who he will pick to fill his Cabinet and how bold he will be with his choices.

Mr Joko, known popularly as Jokowi, has promised to reform government so that his ambitious infrastructure and economic programmes will be implemented promptly during his second term in office. But whether he can push through his preferred choice of technocrats will also depend on his allies in government.

According to political expert Sirojudin Abbas, Mr Joko is, in theory, free to pick the best person for the job because he does not have to worry about his re-election prospects, this being his final term in office. But, he warned that the decision will still be subject to approval from parties which backed Mr Joko's re-election, such as the Golkar Party and the National Awakening Party (PKB).

"Consequently, he will probably pick good professionals from political parties or those whom they can accept," Dr Sirojudin, programme director at Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting, told The Straits Times.

Mr Joko, who ran a furniture export business before entering politics 15 years ago, has said that those from political parties can also be professionals. This has triggered questions on how far he will accommodate political interests in filling the ministerial seats.

The composition of his first-term Cabinet is telling, with only 14 political appointees among the 34 ministers. Representatives from Mr Joko's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) have four posts, while Golkar and PKB take up three posts each.

The parties have already offered their own list of candidates for the new Cabinet, according to local media reports. Golkar has proposed five names, including its chairman Airlangga Hartarto, who is currently Industry Minister, and aeronautical engineer Ilham Habibie, the son of former president B. J. Habibie. PKB has submitted at least 10 names, among which are those with professional backgrounds.

Dr Sirojudin observed that the daunting challenge ahead for the President is to manage risks stemming from his reliance on his influential political partners, as clearly shown in the April election when notable cleric Ma'ruf Amin was picked as his running mate against his will.

A source familiar with the matter told The Straits Times that the President may keep around 10 members of his current Cabinet, and will likely leave economic affairs to the professionals.

The source added that Mr Joko's meetings with political parties these coming weeks does not mean he will bow to their will. "He must talk with political parties because they've helped him win, and they will be working together in Parliament," the source said.

Analysts say some jobs are best left to the experts.

Mr Bhima Yudhistira Adhinegara, an economist from the Institute for Development of Economics and Finance, said that ideally, ministerial posts relating to the economy must be handled by the professionals.

"The most important thing is that economic matters must be free from political intervention," he said.

He noted some economic concerns that should be addressed quickly, such as low exports and investment, and slow economic growth.

The new line-up, which may only be released in October, is expected to feature some old hands as well as fresh faces.

Ministers who could be reappointed include Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati and Public House and Housing Minister Basuki Hadimuljono.

Ms Sri Mulyani, formerly managing director at the World Bank, has kept Indonesia's fiscal deficit in check and was instrumental in Indonesia being rated investment grade by all the top rating agencies for the first time in two decades.

Mr Basuki is behind Mr Joko's ambitious infrastructure push to better connect the archipelago of more than 17,000 islands.

The new faces include Mr Erick Thohir, a media tycoon who led the Jokowi-Ma'ruf campaign team and organised the highly-praised Asian Games last year, and Professor Yusril Ihza Mahendra, who led their legal team in the suit brought by defeated presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto at the Constitutional Court to overturn the elections results.

Other potential candidates include Mr Nadiem Makarim, the CEO of tech start-up Go-Jek, and Mr Bahlil Lahadalia, the chairman of the Indonesian Young Businessmen Association.

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