President Joko Widodo’s cabinet reshuffle last week was a calculated move to shore up his position rather than improve policy performance.
On 17 July 2023, President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) appointed a handful of stalwart loyalists to serve as a new minister and as vice ministers. Like some commentators have speculated, the authors view this reshuffle as a move meant by the president to consolidate his political power rather than to improve his cabinet’s performance.
List of Appointments with Affiliations and Previous Positions
(17 July 2023 Cabinet Reshuffle)
|Appointee||New appointment||Previous position||Affiliation|
|Budi Arie Setiadi||Minister Communication and Informatics||Vice Minister Villages, Transmigration, and Disadvantaged Regions||PDI-P (Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle); Chairman, Pro-Jokowi group (“Projo”)|
|Nezar Patria||Vice Minister Communication and Informatics||Special Adviser to the Minister State-Owned Enterprises||Jokowi supporter|
|Pahala Nugraha Mansury||Vice Minister Foreign Affairs||Vice Minister State-Owned Enterprises||Jokowi supporter|
|Syaiful Rahmat Dasuki||Vice Minister Religious Affairs||Leader of GP Ansor Jakarta (youth movement associated with Nahdlatul Ulama); Chairman, PPP Jakarta||Active member PPP (United Development Party) Committee|
|Paiman Raharjo||Vice Minister Villages, Transmigration, and Disadvantaged Regions||Rector University Moestopo Jakarta||Chairman, Sedulur Jokowi (a Jokowi supporter group); Member of Jokowi’s campaign team for the 2012 Jakarta gubernatorial election|
|Rosan Perkasa Roeslani||Vice Minister State-Owned Enterprises||Indonesia’s Ambassador to Washington, D.C., USA||Vice Chairman, National Campaign Team for Jokowi-Ma’ruf Amin for the 2019 presidential election|
|Djan Faridz||Member Presidential Advisory Council||Minister for Public Works (2011-2014 under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono); Head, Jakarta branch, Nahdlatul Ulama (2011-2014)||General Chairman, PPP (2014-2019)|
|Gandi Sulistiyanto||Member Presidential Advisory Council||Indonesia’s Ambassador to Seoul, Republic of Korea||Jokowi supporter|
The appointments include a new minister, five vice-ministers and two new members of the Presidential Advisory Council (see table above; we use “vice minister” as the translation for the Indonesian title Wakil Menteri, rather than “deputy minister”, which indicates an echelon 1 or director-general position). They are: Budi Arie Setiadi and Nezar Patria (respectively Minister and Vice Minister, Communications and Informatics), Pahala Nugraha Mansury (Vice Minister, Foreign Affairs), Syaiful Rahmat Dasuki (Vice Minister, Religious Affairs), Paiman Raharjo (Vice Minister, Villages, Transmigration, and Disadvantaged Regions), Rosan Perkasa Roeslani (Vice Minister, State-Owned Enterprises), and Djan Faridz and Gandi Sulistiyanto (Members, President Advisory Council).
While Jokowi continues to enjoy high popularity ratings late into his second term, his cabinet’s performance has been dogged by corruption scandals and problems such as the delayed high-speed train project and key policy failures. It is, therefore, disappointing that most of the appointees neither seem to be area experts nor have the requisite professional track record for their new cabinet portfolios, except for Nezar Patria. Netizens and commentators have already questioned whether Budi Arie Setiadi, the new communications minister and known Jokowi loyalist, has the capability to deliver due to his lack of expertise in communications and informatics.
Throughout his presidency, Jokowi has consistently been quite generous in rewarding loyal supporters, including those from his winning campaign teams (known as “success teams”, Tim Sukses or Timses Jokowi, for his 2012 Jakarta gubernatorial bid and his two presidential ones in 2014 and 2019) by granting them important posts in government and state-owned enterprises (SOEs). This latest reshuffle only strengthens this perception. In Jokowi’s second term, from 2019-2022, as many as 21 cabinet positions were held by such appointees. Some 46 members of his national campaign team and supporters have been appointed directors or commissioners in SOEs.
Looking closely at this reshuffle, the pattern is similar but even more blatant. Those who gained ministerial and vice-ministerial jobs are all long-time loyalists, coming from Jokowi’s network of volunteers (relawan) or supporters, or from political parties potentially committed to supporting whatever Jokowi decides: “tegak lurus pada Jokowi” (literally, under Jokowi’s direct command).
But the pattern only holds if the individuals in question are unstinting in their allegiance to Jokowi. Interestingly, those who supported Jokowi in 2014 and even 2019 but who are now showing that they are pro-Ganjar Pranowo have not been promoted (Ganjar is the anointed presidential nominee of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, PDI-P). These personalities are arguably as qualified as the new appointees to have been in the running for the positions — that is, if technocratic ability, track record, or even affiliation with PDI-P were criteria by which the reshuffle was conducted. These include Hilmar Farid (Director General in the Education ministry), Darmawan Prasodjo (CEO, PLN – Indonesia’s state electric company), or Arief Budimanta (presidential adviser and Bank Mandiri commissioner).
This latter group of Jokowi’s supporters is well known as being among the “’98 activists” (student activists who protested against former president Suharto, who was forced to step down from power in May 1998). These individuals have strong feelings against presidential prospect Prabowo Subianto. Prabowo, who was the Indonesian military’s Special Forces commander at the time, was reportedly involved in the murky disappearances of a number of youth and other anti-Suharto activists. (That said, new vice minister Nezar Patria was also among the activists allegedly kidnapped in 1998.)
What Jokowi is busy doing is not only growing his political dynasty but also nurturing a political culture of what Indonesians call balas budi: he might hope that his loyalists could help to continue his programmes and perhaps even protect him (and his family) after he steps down as president.
Although not all of them are in favour of joining a political party, many of these former student activists are associated with civil society activism even today. If pressed to choose between Prabowo and Ganjar for Indonesia’s next president, most of these individuals would feel that Ganjar is the better candidate.
Given the above logic, this latest reshuffle strongly indicates Jokowi’s sense of urgency in trying to strengthen his position and maybe address the tension emerging from his own relationship with PDI-P. It is known that Jokowi has not decided, or does not want to reveal, whom he will support as his successor. Although he will not be running in the 2024 election, Jokowi has stated his intention to intervene in the candidate selection process to ensure that his successor shares the ideal of a forward-looking Indonesia (Indonesia Maju). Some of Jokowi’s recent interactions with Prabowo have been interpreted by many as a hint that he might support Prabowo in 2024.
At the least, the reshuffle signals that Jokowi is serious about reinforcing his power base without explicitly showing favoritism to either Ganjar or Prabowo. However, pushing his loyalists into cabinet positions will worsen Jokowi’s track record on nepotism.
Moreover, Jokowi may have overlooked the practical implications of this reshuffle on his pet development policies and presidential programmes. With just months to go before the start of the 2024 election campaigning, the new cabinet appointees would not be able to change the budgets or policy structures in their respective ministries. This is because the plans for next year have already been finalised. In essence, a reshuffle near the end of a cabinet’s term would typically see the installation of lame-duck ministers in terms of delivering on policy development. In other words, it would be difficult for them to accomplish something meaningful. Given their known political affiliations, it is likely they are meant to be delivering political – rather than technocratic – support when needed by Jokowi.
What Jokowi is busy doing is not only growing his political dynasty but also nurturing a political culture of what Indonesians call balas budi: he might hope that his loyalists could help to continue his programmes and perhaps even protect him (and his family) after he steps down as president. One way his supporters might do so would be to mobilise votes to ensure the victory of whomever Jokowi decides to support as the next president. Another would be if they managed to retain their positions in the new administration.
Any president has the prerogative to reshuffle his cabinet. All of Jokowi’s predecessors certainly did. Like his predecessors, Jokowi seems to have continued the political culture of balas budi. We will see in 2024 its true effect on Indonesia’s democracy.
Yanuar Nugroho is Visiting Senior Fellow, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. He was the former Deputy Chief of Staff to the President of Indonesia 2015-2019.
Julia Lau is a Senior Fellow and Co-Coordinator of the Indonesia Studies Programme, and Editor, Fulcrum at ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute.