The Asian Voice

Why Jokowi opted for the reshuffle: The Jakarta Post columnist

In his commentary, the writer says the reshuffle was a calculated move by the President, to ensure the smooth functioning of the government and lay the groundwork for his re-election campaign in 2019.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo speaking during a news conference at the presidential palace in Bogor, West Java province, Indonesia, on Oct 18, 2017.


JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - In a stable democracy, a cabinet reshuffle is part of a ritual every administration must go through.

In the post-New Order period, more often than not, cabinet reshuffles have been driven by political expediency, in which a sitting president must accommodate the demands of a ruling coalition who wants its share of power in the government.

This explains why we don't see members of the Gerindra Party or the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) having seats in the Cabinet, and there have long been talks about removing representatives from the National Mandate Party (PAN) as it continues to challenge the government's position on a number of crucial issues.

But there are times when a cabinet shake-up is motivated by a genuine interest from the sitting president in improving the overall performance of his cabinet.

When President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo decided to bring in Sri Mulyani Indrawati to his administration in 2016, it was obvious that he needed a steady hand in overseeing the country's economy - someone he can rely on to boost revenue to fund his infrastructure plan.

The hope was that the former managing director of the World Bank could deliver a better performance than her predecessor, Bambang Brodjonegoro, who was considered by many as having achieved only moderate success.

The inclusion of former Indonesian Military (TNI) commander Wiranto initially raised eyebrows, but it became clear that Jokowi made a sensible decision by appointing a former general who could deal with the threats of terrorism and radicalism.

Jokowi's gamble apparently paid off when Wiranto put his skills to use in dealing with conservative Muslim groups who staged massive street protests to demand the prosecution of Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama for blasphemy in the last months of 2016.

In other instances, for the smooth running of his Cabinet, Jokowi had no reservations about firing a minister who failed to play by the rules. Former coordinating maritime affairs minister Rizal Ramli was removed from his position after less than a year when his penchant for squabbling with other Cabinet members proved to be too disruptive.

Wednesday's Cabinet shake-up is in a category of its own, and though it was described by many as a "minor reshuffle," its implications are enormous as they are tied to President Jokowi's own political survival.

The reshuffle was a calculated move by the President, first to ensure the smooth functioning of the government, while at the same time laying the groundwork for his re-election campaign in 2019.

Officially, Jokowi's tenure will expire in October next year, but he can effectively serve as President only until August this year, the deadline set by the General Elections Commission (KPU) for political parties or coalition of political parties to register their presidential candidates.

Beyond August this year, the President will hit the campaign trail until balloting day in April 2019.

While he is distracted by political campaigning, Jokowi would need a steady hand to keep the smooth functioning of his administration. This is the perfect job for former TNI chief Gen. (retired) Moeldoko, who was appointed as presidential chief of staff on Wednesday, replacing Teten Masduki, a former antigraft activist who is a relative stranger to State Palace intrigue.

Presidential chief of staff, a ministry-level position, is an ill-defined position and was partly designed to allow for a strong character to be the President's right-hand man.

After all, this is the position that was first given to - if not designed for - Luhut Pandjaitan, now the coordinating maritime affairs minister. And just like Luhut, Moeldoko will have an outsized presence at the State Palace, one that would serve as a conduit for the itinerant Jokowi and other members in his administration.

Jokowi's decision to recruit Moeldoko is akin to what United States President Donald Trump did in bringing in US marine general John Kelly to bring order back to the White House after months of internecine wars between multiple factions vying to influence the embattled president.

The appointment of Idrus Marham as social affairs minister, meanwhile, is directly related to Jokowi's reelection bid. By giving another ministerial position to a Golkar politician, Jokowi is evidently hedging his bets, giving the party a bigger slice of the pie with the intention of getting its unconditional support for his 2019 reelection bid.

Jokowi has made the extra effort to ensure that Golkar will be on his side through thick and thin, given that the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) continues to dilly-dally over who it would support in next year's presidential election.

After successfully installing Trade Minister Airlangga Hartarto as chairman of Golkar in December last year, appointing Idrus as a Cabinet minister is the logical next step. Having three ministers from Golkar - Luhut is the third - is enough incentive for the party to stick with its benefactor.

Being president is about striking the balance between fighting for the public good and political survival. After three years of fighting to deliver success from his position as President, Jokowi is shifting back to being a politician, and as every politician knows, the only game in town is survival of the fittest.

The writer is the paper's managing editor and contributes regularly on national affairs. The Jakarta Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media.

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