It’s not a good sign that on the eve of Independence Day, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo was again in full-crisis mode, dealing with a rookie mistake and having to dismiss a Cabinet minister, an influential one, just 20 days after being inaugurated.
Early in his State of the Nation address delivered before the House of Representatives on Tuesday, which was heavy in numbers and figures and light on inspiring rhetoric, Jokowi said in his first year in office he had laid the foundations for the national development program and that 2016 would be the year his administration accelerated pace.
We want to believe the President, but if the Arcandra saga is any indication, Jokowi has his job cut out for him, and this year or next year we will continue to see his juggling act, keeping all the power brokers, political party leaders and scions of the old oligarchs at arm’s length.
In the last Cabinet shake-up in July, we could see Jokowi doing exactly that. To accommodate demands from political parties, that had switched sides from the opposition to joining his ruling coalition, the President returned the favor by giving them seats in the Cabinet.
This in the short run will result in a political stability that the President desperately needs to push through parts of his development agenda, but it has also created disruption to some of the government programs that affect the public in general.
Earlier this month, the new culture and education minister created controversy by proposing to implement an all-day school day for students nationwide, a departure from what his predecessor had campaigned for, namely, encouraging families to play a bigger role in education.
The appointment of Luhut Pandjaitan as coordinating maritime affairs minister is said to have created tensions with Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti over plans to allow foreign investors to enter the fisheries sector.
Both are also known as ministers with strong personalities, which makes it easy for tensions to erupt in the Cabinet.
The President’s decision to tap Wiranto as coordinating political, legal and security affairs minister, an unexpected move made with no apparent reason other than to maintain balance within the corridors of power, has created new complications to Jokowi’s plan to settle past human rights abuse cases, one of his chief presidential campaign promises.
In the State of the Nation address, Jokowi reminded the nation about the challenges ahead; global competition, slow economic growth and terrorism.
Internally, the nation has to deal with poverty, social inequality, bureaucratic red tape and a lack of adequate infrastructure.
These are challenges that, as Jokowi said in his speech, all his predecessors have struggled to deal with. Success has eluded some past presidents, and their failures could be attributed mostly to politics.
Jokowi now has the luxury of having solid political support from major political parties in the House of Representatives. The last Cabinet shake-up saw Jokowi paying his dues and that should be the last time.
Now, as he himself said early in his term, it’s time for “work, work and work”.
The Jakarta Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 21 newspapers.