President Joko Widodo and Vice-President Jusuf Kalla, at Indonesia's Election Commission on July 22 (Simon Roughneen)

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President Joko Widodo and Vice-President Jusuf Kalla, at Indonesia's Election Commission on July 22 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)
President Joko Widodo and Vice-President Jusuf Kalla, at Indonesia’s Election Commission on July 22 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Indonesian President’s pragmatic new ministerial lineup has impressive elements, even if some dub it a compromise

JAKARTA – After pledging “to work, work, work” in his inauguration speech on October 20, Indonesian President Joko Widodo has followed up, eventually, with a “working cabinet.”

When the white-shirted president presented his similarly-clad ministers on the State Palace lawn last Sunday, 18 of the 34 turned out to be “technocrats,” in keeping with his promise that party political appointees would be in the minority.

Joko was helped by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), which vetoed eight nominees. He had to quickly find replacements, and, presumably, to haggle with his four-party coalition over who got what.

His own Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) took five ministries, with Rini Soemarno, a minister during party leader Megawati Sukarnoputri’s presidency, making a comeback as Minister for State-Owned Enterprises, overseeing 138 businesses that make up 20 percent of the economy.

Megawati’s unpopular daughter Puan Maharani was given the Culture beat, while Agriculture went to Amran Sulaiman, seen as a backer of Vice-President Jusuf Kalla.

“This cabinet reeks with appeasements to Mega’s will and also compromises with Jusuf Kalla,” Yohanes Sulaiman of the Indonesian Defense University, told The Edge Review.

But elsewhere Joko seems to have put his own people in key economic and infrastructure jobs – from Finance Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro, former dean of the economics faculty at the University of Indonesia, to Sofyan Djalil, the new Coordinating Minister of Economic Affairs, who was a minister during the first term of Susilo Bambang Yudhyono, Joko’s predecessor, and whom Joko described as his “captain at the helm.”

Both men have talked the talk, mentioning the need to upgrade creaking infrastructure and create more manufacturing jobs – two key reforms on Joko’s daunting to-do list.

Echoing to an extent Joko’s own rise from self-made entrepreneur, new Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti is a high-school dropout who went on to found a far-flung business empire. In another first, Yohana Susana Yembise becomes Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Minister, making her Indonesia’s first ever female Papuan minister.

There is a new standalone Tourism Ministry, suggesting a new focus on growing visitor numbers, which at under 10 million are half those of Malaysia or Thailand. The president also merged the Forestry and Environment portfolios, perhaps in recognition of concerns that deforestation is ravaging Indonesia’s natural landscape.

But, for all that, there are concerns that some new ministers could be a bit callow. “We think experience does count for something, especially when it comes to dealing with reform-resistant bureaucrats,” wrote Nomura, a Japanese finance house.

And unlike the KPK, Indonesia’s Human Rights Commission was not consulted, it seems, regarding the new cabinet. Leaked lists of nominees suggested that Hanura Party leader Wiranto would be a minister, despite being accused of presiding over human rights violations in East Timor prior to its 1999 secession from Indonesia.

Wiranto did not make the cut in the end, but Ryamizard Ryacudu, another former army head and a Megawati loyalist, received the Defence portfolio. His appointment will hardly go down well in Aceh, where he led the army’s 2003 campaign to crush local rebels, or in West Papua, where he is said to have applauded the assassination of a prominent local rights campaigner.

“It is notable that Jokowi has broken with a convention that the Defence Minister is a civilian,” said Michael Buehler, a southeast Asia specialist at the School of African and Oriental Studies. “The appointment is a real disappointment.”

There are no opposition members in the cabinet, despite speculation that Joko might offer ministerial jobs to parties that backed defeated presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, in an effort to dissolve the opposition.
Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin – the sole reappointment from the last administration – is from the United Development Party (PPP), which backed Prabowo’s presidential bid. His appointment is seen as a sign that it now may switch sides from the Prabowo camp, but this also depends on a bitter ongoing leadership struggle inside the party.

Prabowo himself has maintained a new-found conciliatory demeanor. “We have hope [for Joko’s ministers]. Let us give the widest possible opportunity to the government to work well for the sake of the country and the people,” he said on Tuesday.

So, what of that oft-mentioned “work”?

“The first hurdle for the economic team is to implement the fuel subsidy cut in order to ease Indonesia’s twin deficit problems,” noted DBS Bank this week. But the subsidy for petrol and diesel, which swallows 20 percent of the annual budget, was not discussed at Monday’s inaugural cabinet meeting.

Bambang Brodjonegoro, the Finance Minister, later told Bloomberg that the timing and scope of the much-anticipated subsidy cut, seen as vital to freeing money for infrastructure investment, had not yet been decided.

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