President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo on 17 July reshuffled his cabinet, without adding anyone from his own party’s core or removing certain ministers. His choices have potential ramifications for the 2024 general elections, as well as for his legacy.
Jokowi finally reshuffled his cabinet after being prodded for months by his own Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P), who wants him to expel ministers from the National Democrat Party (Nasdem), which had in October 2022 announced the presidential candidacy of former Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan, an independent politician loathed by the PDI-P. However, the reshuffle did not exactly make PDI-P wishes come true. Two Nasdem ministers remain in the cabinet while none of the appointees come from the PDI-P core leadership. The only ministerial change in the reshuffle saw a fringe PDI-P politician, Budi Arie Setiadi, who was previously the deputy minister for village development, taking over the post of communications minister that was held by Nasdem secretary general Johnny Plate.
Plate has already been out of the cabinet since May when he was arrested for his role in the ongoing telecommunications corruption scandal involving officials, politicians and a Chinese company. Jokowi did not expel Plate because he was from Nasdem, a party that has supported him for years. The triangle between Jokowi, PDI-P chief Megawati Sukarnoputri and Nasdem leader Surya Paloh is complicated to say the least. Media mogul Paloh has bankrolled Jokowi’s political campaigns for the last decade while former Indonesian president Megawati, who views the president as a party cadre, dislikes that association. Megawati and Paloh have been at odds for years, but Nasdem’s sponsorship of Baswedan was the last straw that broke the relationship.
Jokowi’s latest cabinet reshuffle is arguably a cloaked message that the president wants to finish his last year in power on his own terms, with his own men and for his own legacy, not PDI-P’s or Megawati’s. While former journalist Setiadi is part of the PDI-P, as the leader of the pervasive pro-Jokowi grassroots network of volunteers known as Projo, he is more loyal to the president than to the party. Meanwhile, those who have called for Nasdem’s expulsion are Megawati confidants. The PDI-P realises it cannot visibly force Jokowi to make choices regarding his cabinet due to Indonesia’s political system that gives the elected president, not the ruling party in parliament, prerogative in shaping the government.
The other cabinet positions affected in the reshuffle are deputy minister posts. Jokowi appointed independents for almost all of them (with the exception of the post of deputy religious affairs minister, who traditionally comes from an Islamic party). He also created a deputy for Setiadi’s post and gave it to Nezar Patria, another pro-Jokowi former journalist. For the first time in decades, the ministry dealing with communications and information is again led by media people after a long line of ministers who were business executives, like Plate.
Other relevant changes for businesses were signature Jokowi unorthodox choices for foreign and state-owned enterprises (SOE) deputy ministers. Pahala Mansury, a trained banker leaves the post of deputy SOE minister to become deputy foreign minister although he lacks diplomatic experience while his successor, Rosan Roeslani, is former envoy to the US and a tycoon before his ambassadorship. Like Patria, Mansury and Roeslani are not from PDI-P and are also known to be close to non-partisan SOE Minister Erick Thohir who was Jokowi’s re-election campaign manager. Thus, they are clearly part of Jokowi’s individual consolidation of power, which is likely to elicit a stronger commitment to his economic and commercial targets.
The president’s man
Jokowi desires a successor who can continue his policies and projects while the PDI-P wants the next president to follow Megawati’s orders. The two aims can have common results, but can also diverge. From his non-verbal gestures and verbal innuendoes, Jokowi prefers Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto (his rival in the 2014 and 2019 elections) who is leading pre-election surveys. Jokowi and Prabowo have fought before and come from different backgrounds with the populist president born in a slum while the hawkish minister is elitist, but they are aligned when it comes to Jokowi legacies – the capital city project, downstream metal industrialisation, and the nationwide infrastructure drive.
The PDI-P wants Jokowi to go all-out in backing the party’s candidate – Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo, who is being marketed as Jokowi 2.0 as they come from the same province and humble environments. Jokowi tried to play matchmaker by offering Pranowo as Prabowo’s running mate, but the PDI-P refused to come second behind the minister’s Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), a member in the ruling coalition that the PDI-P leads. Pranowo himself has vowed to continue Jokowi policies and projects, but the governor has so far not inspired confidence that he would seriously push them through and has a service contract with the PDI-P attached to his candidacy. Pranowo also has no record of deep involvement in policies and projects outside Indonesia’s main island of Java and is not a businessman like Jokowi or Prabowo. He is known to have a socialist streak, especially on labour issues and small-medium enterprises, with no clear support for big businesses and non-Java infrastructure.
Despite the strained dynamics between Jokowi and Megawati, the two are unlikely to break their knotty union before the end of the current presidential tenure. Both need each other too much. Without the PDI-P, Jokowi cannot finish his last term peacefully. Without Jokowi, whose approval ratings have gone beyond 80% this year, the PDI-P will lose crucial pro-Jokowi voters in the upcoming elections. The political dance between the two will likely continue with Jokowi showing he cannot be dictated to but may be willing to meet halfway, including ceremoniously supporting Pranowo. He will unlikely humiliate Megawati either by categorically declaring his alliance with Prabowo or Paloh or anyone she dislikes. If this political bond, the most important in Indonesian politics for the last decade, remains intact, political stability risks will unlikely change from the current low levels.
Indeed, there are circumstances that could unravel this in the coming months. They include anything openly offensive and uncharacteristic from Jokowi, who tends to adopt an oblique communication style, against the regal Megawati. Another potential flashpoint could be political harm from Megawati’s proxies inflicted on Jokowi’s son and son-in-law. Both are mayors who were elected on PDI-P platforms and have become targets of jeers from party veterans.
This article is based on a research note originally published in Seerist Core. Find out more about how Seerist’s adaptive artificial intelligence combined with localised geopolitical risk expertise can help you identify, monitor and mitigate risks.