The recent Indonesian Cabinet reshuffle has seen President Jokowi prioritise political consolidation of power ahead of the 2024 presidential elections.
Since being in power over the past eight years, President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) has carried out seven cabinet reshuffles. The latest reshuffle on 15 June 2022 reinforced Jokowi’s strategy of using his presidential prerogatives as a political tool to consolidate his political power by accommodating political allies in the government.
The National Mandate Party (PAN) which joined Jokowi’s ruling coalition last year was finally rewarded with the appointment of PAN’s Chairman Zulkifli Hasan as the new Trade Minister. The Islamist party Partai Bulan Bintang (Crescent Star Party, PBB), which failed to pass the parliamentary threshold of 4 per cent in the 2019 election, was also accommodated when its Secretary General, Afriansyah Noor, was appointed as Vice Minister of Manpower. Even Raja Juli Antoni, the leader of the newcomer nationalist Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) was appointed as Vice Minister of Agrarian Affairs and Spatial Planning/Deputy Head of the National Land Agency. The appointment of former TNI Commander Hadi Tjahjanto as Minister of Agrarian Affairs and Spatial Planning also indicates Jokowi’s desire to ensure the political co-optation of not only political parties, but also the military and other important non-party actors.
These moves to consolidate power in the final two years of his second term underscores Jokowi’s desire not only to preserve political stability amidst increasing global economic uncertainty, but also to ensure that he encounters minimal political friction in the run-up to the presidential elections in 2024. This explains why several of Jokowi’s poorly performing ministers who came from major parties such as Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Arifin Tasrif (backed by PDIP) and Minister of Agriculture Syahrul Yasin Limpo (Nasdem Party) managed to survive the reshuffle. It is significant that the two ministers who lost their Cabinet seats – Minister of Trade M. Lutfi and Minister of Agrarian Affairs and Spatial Planning Sofyan Djalil – were political lightweights that came from non-party circles. The highly political nature of the latest reshuffle was further reinforced by the high-power lunch between Jokowi and the seven chairmen of ruling coalition parties before the inauguration of the new cabinet members.
The substance of the latest reshuffle is a far cry from the ideals Jokowi had articulated when he formed his first cabinet in 2014. At that time, Jokowi said he would form a professional cabinet and avoid the conventional horse-trading politics which characterised almost every Indonesian presidency after the post-New Order era. Back then, he had been confident in forming a Cabinet that relied on the support of four parties – PDI-P, NasDem, PKB and Hanura. These four parties only contributed 37 per cent of the seats in the DPR. Only 15 of the 34 ministerial posts were awarded to this group of parties.
In the middle of his first term in 2016, Jokowi changed tack by absorbing new coalition partners, Golkar and PAN, into his cabinet which resulted in a completely new political landscape. Jokowi’s ruling coalition ended up with a sizeable majority in parliament, comprising nearly 70 per cent of the seats in Parliament (DPR).
This approach of seeking grand coalitions to preserve political stability has persisted well into Jokowi’s second term in office. The president surprised many watchers by co-opting his main rival Prabowo Subianto and his party Gerindra into the fold. Currently, seven out of the nine parties in parliament are now part of Jokowi’s ruling coalition. Collectively they comprise 82 per cent of the seats in the DPR.
The substance of the latest reshuffle is a far cry from the ideals Jokowi had articulated when he formed his first cabinet in 2014. At that time, Jokowi said he would form a professional Cabinet and avoid the conventional horse-trading politics which characterised almost every Indonesian presidency after the post-New Order era.
Thus, in terms of promiscuous power-sharing, there appears to be no difference between Jokowi and previous Indonesian presidents who also formed oversized coalitions. However, compared to previous presidents who seemed to be held hostage by their coalition partners, it is now President Jokowi who seems to control the parties so that even unpopular government policies and bills can still be passed and ratified by the DPR.
Furthermore, with only the Democrats and PKS left in the opposition camp and having fewer than the requisite minimum threshold of 20 per cent of seats in parliament to field their own presidential ticket, it would seem that the eventual number of presidential tickets for the 2024 election will be determined solely by the dynamics within the ruling coalition. Jokowi would certainly be hoping that all the potential presidential candidates would be his allies and be able to provide him political protection after 2024 and guarantee the continuity of his work programs.
Nevertheless, Jokowi should not be too confident that his coalition partners would continue to do his bidding. As the election draws closer, each coalition party will start to think about their respective electoral interests and the president’s outsized influence over them will wane. Jokowi’s past failure to appoint Mahfud MD as his preferred vice-presidential candidate in 2019 proved that the coalition parties do have their own agenda and interests, which might diverge from Jokowi’s own political and personal agenda. (While Jokowi had initially wanted Mahfud to be his running mate, his coalition parties chose Ma’ruf Amin over Mahfud because the former was not seen as a threat to the popularity of party leaders.)
In conclusion, the ruling coalition consisting of seven parties with 82 per cent of the seats in parliament has become a hegemonic force that can quash any parliamentary dissent against the government. This raises the risk of what Dan Slater has called the “accountability trap”, in which the government-controlled parliament fails to perform its checks and balances function. Under such circumstances, civil society and the media must step up to play a more critical role in scrutinising government policy and actions amidst the DPR’s increasing impotence as the guardrail for a healthy checks and balances system in a democracy.
Burhanuddin Muhtadi is Visiting Fellow in the Indonesia Studies Programme, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.