All eyes on Jokowi's new Cabinet selection

(Left) Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati is likely to be retained by Mr Joko in his new Cabinet while Professor Yusril Ihza Mahendra could be a possible new face.
(Left) Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati is likely to be retained by Mr Joko in his new Cabinet while Professor Yusril Ihza Mahendra could be a possible new face.

Indonesian leader must win allies' support for appointing technocrats to key positions

Now that President Joko Widodo's resounding win in the April polls is official, attention has shifted to his Cabinet line-up and how bold his choices may be.

Mr Joko, who is known popularly as Jokowi, has promised to reform the government so that his ambitious infrastructure and economic programmes can be implemented promptly during his second term. But whether he will succeed in pushing through his preferred 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 is legally barred from seeking another term, so he does not have to worry about his re-election prospects. But Dr Sirojudin warned that the President's decisions will still be subject to approval from the groups which backed his 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," said Dr Sirojudin, programme director at Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting.

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 led to questions about 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, the current 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 noted that the daunting challenge 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.

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 do 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 of 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," the economist said, noting that some economic concerns should be addressed quickly, such as low exports and investment, as well as slow economic growth.

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

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

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

The new faces include Mr Erick Thohir, a media tycoon who led the Jokowi-Ma'ruf campaign team. Also a possibility is Professor Yusril Ihza Mahendra, who headed the duo's legal team in fighting the suit brought by defeated presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto and his running mate Sandiaga Uno at the Constitutional Court to overturn the election results.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 06, 2019, with the headline 'All eyes on Jokowi's new Cabinet selection'. Print Edition | Subscribe