President Joko Widodo

President Joko Widodo announces six new ministers after the Cabinet reshuffle at the State Palace on 22 December 2020. (Photo: Joko Widodo, Facebook)

Jokowi’s Opportune and Forward-Looking Cabinet Change

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The end-of-year cabinet reshuffle sets the stage for the 2022 Jakarta gubernatorial election.

After months of rumours about a cabinet reshuffle, President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) took the opportunity to replace six ministers on 23 December. Two of his ministers were under investigation for their misuse of power by the country’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), while the other four were deemed to be non-performing. Roughly one year into President Jokowi’s second-term, six key ministries – Social Affairs, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Health, Religious Affairs, Trade and Tourism and Creative Economy – will now have a new minister.

The two ministers under investigation, Juliari Peter Batubara, from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Edhy Prabowo, from the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, will be replaced by Tri Rismaharani (Risma), Mayor of Surabaya, the country’s second largest city and Sakti Wahyu Trenggono (Trenggono), Vice Minister of Defence respectively.

Risma (59 years old), who has an architecture and urban development background, spent most of her career moving up through the Surabaya municipal government and in 2016 was elected mayor of Surabaya. Affiliated with the PDI-P party, Risma has become a favourite candidate for the upcoming Jakarta gubernatorial election, given her ability to clean up and make Surabaya, the capital of East Java, greener and more liveable. She is a popular figure and her new position as Minister of Social Affairs will provide her with a politically valuable national platform.

Trenggono (58 years old), an engineer with a telecommunications business background, comes from Central Java, the same province as President Jokowi. He was the treasurer for President Jokowi’s first presidential campaign and became Vice-Minister of Defence in President Jokowi’s second term. A trusted person with a business background, Trenggono is expected to address the controversy over the issuance of export licenses over lobster larvae, which was banned during the Jokowi’s first term and led to Edhy Prabowo’s arrest.

The other four new Ministers are Budi Gunawan Sadikin (Budi), Minister of Health; Yaqut Cholil Quomas (Yaqut), Minister of Religious Affairs; Mohammad Lutfi (Lutfi), Minister of Trade; and Sandiaga Salahudin Uno (Sandi), Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy.

Given, the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic and rising religious intolerance, the Ministries of Health and Religious Affairs respectively needed new leadership.

Budi (56 years old), an engineer with a strong banking background (former CEO of Indonesia’s largest bank, Bank Mandiri) and Vice Minister of State-Owned Enterprises, was a surprise choice for Minister of Health, which has usually gone to someone with a medical background. But Dr Terawan Agus Putranto, the outgoing Minister, who was a radiologist from the Army, struggled to manage the ministry’s sprawling bureaucracy and to implement the government’s ambitious health program to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. President Jokowi recently assured the public that the Covid-19 vaccines being procured would be made available to Indonesians free of charge. This will involve a sizable allocation of government funds and is one reason why Budi, having led the country’s largest bank, has been chosen to lead this massive vaccination campaign that is expected to take 2-3 years to cover the whole population.

By choosing a young leader from NU and Ansor, which has often spoken out against religious intolerance, the government hopes to promote and maintain religious harmony.

Yaqut (45 years old), with a sociology degree, is the youngest among the new ministers. He comes from a family of well-known leaders of Indonesia’s largest Islamic social organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU). Yaqut himself is a leader of Ansor, NU’s youth wing, as well as a member of parliament representing the NU-affiliated National Awakening Party (PKB). Yaqut is replacing retired Army General Fachrul Razi as Minister of Religious Affairs. There was rising frustration with Razi for not preventing the rise of radicalism and religious intolerance among the country’s Muslim community, especially the younger generation. The political opposition has often used religion as a divisive issue to gain votes. By choosing a young leader from NU and Ansor, who has often spoken out against religious intolerance, the government hopes to promote and maintain religious harmony.

The appointment of new ministers for trade and tourism respectively signals the importance given to efforts to promote exports and revive the tourism industry.

Lutfi (51 years old) has a business background and served as Ambassador to Japan and, more recently, to the US. He also was the former head of Indonesia’s Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM) and served a short stint as Minister of Trade in President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s (SBY) last term. In a way, Lutfi is returning to complete what he has started earlier.

Sandi (51 years old) is also a businessman who has gone into politics, by joining the Gerindra Party, and becoming Prabowo Subianto’s running mate in their failed 2019 Presidential bid. Unlike Lutfi, Sandi’s appointment is a bit of a surprise. Some commentators have quickly opined that though voters elected Jokowi and Ma’ruf as President and Vice-President, the inclusion of their challengers in the cabinet, Prabowo and Minister of Defence and Sandi as Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy, could be seen as an added bonus.

Sandi sits on Gerindra’s Board of Trustees (Dewan Pembina) together with Prabowo and his brother Hasyim. His appointment maintains Gerindra’s level of representation in the cabinet.

Most analysts are looking beyond these current appointments to the next Jakarta gubernatorial election in 2022 as well as the upcoming presidential election in 2024. The new cabinet has individuals that can be potential leading candidates in both elections. President Jokowi, by appointing them into his cabinet, is giving them a national stage to perform. At the same time, Jokowi hopes that the inclusion of these individuals in his cabinet will protect his two-term legacy.

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