News analysis

Jokowi keeps plan for reshuffle to himself

Indonesian leader's Twitter post on issue reminds critics he is boss

With little or no ties to Indonesia's military, influential families or the traditional power centres in Jakarta, President Joko Widodo was an easy cast as the face of reformasi during his rise to power in 2014.

But as the first Indonesian President backed by a minority government, Mr Joko appeared, at least on paper and in the early days of taking office, to be politically vulnerable.

That was evident by the President seemingly having to trade Cabinet positions in exchange for the support of traditional party oligarchs.

Critics say instead of delivering on his campaign promise of change, Mr Joko's choice of Cabinet members was a sign of political regression for Indonesia - harsh words for a man who was featured on the cover of Time magazine with the headline, A New Hope.

But was the expectation for a Cabinet staffed with reform-minded technocrats and politicians free of the proverbial political wheeling and dealing even realistic?

Political analyst Burhanuddin Muhtadi sees such horse-trading tactics as a change in Mr Joko's stance on political reforms.


The matter of (a Cabinet) reshuffle is my business - Jkw.


He added in a research paper published recently that the President has since placed greater value on realpolitik rather than reform, as seen in his choice of ministers and key office-holders. This includes the appointment of the national police chief and leaders of the country's Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), he added.

Veteran journalist John McBeth, who has covered Indonesia for decades, had said in an op-ed in 2014 that then as president-elect, Mr Joko always had to be mindful of coalition politics in selecting ministers. He added that it was simply unrealistic to think that Mr Joko could rely on the support of his political partners without offering them a meaningful stake in his government.

Fast forward to this year and Indonesia is now on the cusp of a second Cabinet reshuffle. This after many are anticipating the changes to be announced this weekend.

Rumours have been rife recently over which ministers may be left without a job come Monday - with the names of a handful of officials openly discussed for weeks in the media and on the Internet.

A certain minister was even said to have been bidding farewell to beat reporters over this last week.

There was also talk of the creation of a Chief Minister or Prime Minister post as part of the Cabinet shake-up - a move flatly denied by a Presidential Palace spokesman.

Mr Joko first reshuffled his Cabinet in August last year when Indonesia was experiencing its slowest growth since 2009.

Then, Mr Joko replaced four ministers, moved one and appointed a senior party cadre in a key palace role in a bid to boost investor confidence in the government's handling of its flagging economy and to strike a compromise with his ruling party.

Still, some critics had said such compromises would continue to be an Achilles' heel for Mr Joko.

Recent developments ahead of a second reshuffle, however, may offer a different insight into the former political outsider from Solo.

His public chastising on Wednesday of a minister who released a performance grading of his Cabinet members, followed by a surprise post on his Twitter account a day later to remind people that the right to reshuffle the Cabinet is his prerogative, could be a message to his ministers to show them who's boss.

Whatever the case, no one can say with any certainty when Mr Joko will make his move.

In fact, the President looks happy keeping his cards close to his chest over the timing of the reshuffle, while allowing his ministers and office-holders to vex over his game of political musical chairs.

As the guessing game continues, perhaps his Tweet on Thursday sums it all up best: "The matter of (a Cabinet) reshuffle is my business - Jkw."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2016, with the headline 'Jokowi keeps plan for reshuffle to himself'. Print Edition | Subscribe