Indonesia must unite in face of economic challenges: Prabowo

Indonesian President Joko Widodo taking a selfie with Mr Prabowo Subianto last Friday. Mr Joko wrote on Facebook that he met his "good friend" at the Istana, adding: "When the global economy is down, security and political stability are needed. Of co
Indonesian President Joko Widodo taking a selfie with Mr Prabowo Subianto last Friday. Mr Joko wrote on Facebook that he met his "good friend" at the Istana, adding: "When the global economy is down, security and political stability are needed. Of course there are those who ask, what about the coalition issue? Of course there was also talk about it, but not yet final." PHOTO: JOKO WIDODO/ FACEBOOK

Call a sign that failed presidential hopeful may join Jokowi's ruling coalition

President Joko Widodo, who was re-elected in April with a majority vote, has received the backing of his defeated rival Prabowo Subianto, who stressed this week that Indonesia needs to be united to face difficult times ahead, amid rising global economic challenges.

There have been strong signs this past week that Mr Prabowo may join Mr Joko's ruling coalition after the two met at the presidential palace in the capital last Friday, with Mr Joko admitting later that he had discussed the possibility.

Following the meeting, Mr Prabowo held talks with the chiefs of three other political parties in the ruling coalition, coming away with promises to put the country's needs ahead of party interests.

Although defeated in the election, the former army general managed to garner 44.5 per cent of the vote. His Gerindra has been the main opposition party since 2009, when Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono started his second term as Indonesia's president.

The Straits Times understands that Mr Joko has agreed to Gerindra joining the coalition, but on condition that other political parties in the ruling coalition support it.

The news comes as Indonesia feels the impact of a protracted trade war between China and the United States, with exports stagnating and consumer demand slowing. Analysts say if Mr Prabowo comes on board, it could pave the way for Indonesia to embark on its most stable political journey in a decade.

The two men and their parties account for the most number of grassroots supporters among Indonesia's political parties. The ruling coalition controls 61 per cent of the seats in the Lower House, but that does not guarantee political stability. As the main opposition party, Gerindra has been a vocal critic and obstacle to government policies.

Observers say that Gerindra joining the ruling coalition would help bridge the divide between the pluralist constituency of Mr Joko's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle and the Islamists backing Gerindra, as well as reduce the play of identity politics.

In the past week, Mr Joko, popularly known as Jokowi, also met the chairmen of the Democratic Party and National Mandate Party, both of which supported Mr Prabowo for president. If these two parties and Gerindra join the ruling coalition, Indonesia would have only one opposition party - the Islamic-leaning Prosperous Justice Party.

 
 

"A nation like ours needs a combination of all forces to work together for the people. We have to avoid divisions, especially those that may lead to physical clashes," Mr Prabowo told reporters on Monday night, after meeting Mr Muhaimin Iskandar, chairman of the National Awakening Party, which is part of the ruling coalition.

On Tuesday, Mr Prabowo had a meeting with Mr Airlangga Hartarto, chairman of Golkar, which has the second largest number of seats in Parliament.

"At the meeting, we discussed ways to ensure political stability, which is the precursor to security stability... this would help the economy, which in turn would boost people's welfare," Mr Airlangga told reporters later.

Over the weekend, Mr Prabowo also met Mr Surya Paloh, chairman of the NasDem party, another ruling coalition member. The two leaders pledged to prioritise the nation's interests over those of their own political parties.

However, political observer Burhanuddin Muhtadi said coalitions in Indonesia are formed based on parties seeking office, "which is a short-term interest".

"It is not for policymaking. A party is considered to be part of the coalition if it has representation in the Cabinet. Otherwise it is out," Mr Burhanuddin, a lecturer at the State Islamic University in Jakarta, told MetroTV.

Expanding the coalition would mean Mr Joko's administration would have an easier time with unpopular policies, such as cutting petrol subsidies, he added.

 
 

An expanded coalition would also help Mr Joko counter pressures from his own party, which in the past had differences with the President and even threatened to end support for the popular leader.

Mr Dodi Ambardi of the University of Gadjah Mada said the moves to form a coalition are mainly a power-sharing arrangement.

Parties with the highest number of seats in Parliament would usually get Cabinet posts with the biggest annual budget or with the easiest access to economic resources.

"In addition, a political party granted a ministerial post would have a political stage, benefiting from consistent media coverage (on the minister's work and regular activities).

"This is image building and campaigning for the party, which requires no cost," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2019, with the headline 'Indonesia must unite in face of economic challenges: Prabowo'. Print Edition | Subscribe