By A. Ibrahim Almuttaqi
Head of ASEAN Studies Program The Habibie Center

Working Cabinet 2.0: Who's likely in and who's likely out?

Over the past few weeks, Indonesia has been dogged by a number of controversies. Ranging from the revised Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) Law, the draft Criminal Code, student demonstrations and even unrest in the provinces of Papua and West Papua, such controversies have grabbed the nation's attention.

However, following the swearing-in ceremony for House of Representatives members for 2019-2024, it is timely to revisit the issue of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's new Cabinet. Given that Puan Maharani and Yasonna Laoly both resigned from the Cabinet to take up their seats in the new House, a reshuffle is all but certain. However, the composition of this Working Cabinet 2.0 is less certain.

Four factors are likely to be key. First are opposition parties' maneuverings for a place on the proverbial table. Jokowi has entertained the idea of a "unity government" that encompasses as many political parties as possible including those that opposed his run for the presidency.

This was made clear when the President cryptically posted on social media the Javanese proverb Lamun sira sekti, aja mateni (Even though you are powerful, do not knock others down). Several months ago, long-time rival Prabowo Subianto was said to be open to the idea of joining the ruling coalition but on the condition his Gerindra Party be given Cabinet posts that oversee food. and energy policies.

While the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) seems open to the possibility of granting some seats to its rival, the other parties in the ruling coalition rejected outright such an idea. Notably, on July 22, all the pro-Jokowi parties - with the exception of the PDI-P - met to discuss the situation. The subsequent fallout from this has seemingly not subsided as demonstrated by PDI-P chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri's snub toward her Nasdem counterpart Surya Paloh at the House swearing-in ceremony.

Second is Megawati's own expectation that the PDI-P's status as the party that won the most seats at the general election should be similarly reflected in the new Cabinet. Thus, while the PDI-P may allow the opposition Gerindra to join the coalition, it has also made clear it should not be at its own expense.

Recalling how she once rejected an offer by then-president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to have eight seats in his Cabinet, Megawati has openly hinted that she expects no less. In other words, if eight cabinet seats were too little for the PDI-P when it was an opposition party back then, it would be even more unacceptable now that it is the largest ruling party.

The third factor is the performance of the current Cabinet, whose term will end very soon. President Jokowi has made clear his displeasure at the output of several of his ministers in recent months.

Jokowi was apparently unhappy with Indonesia's trade deficit, which was recorded at US$2.14 billion in the first quarter of 2019, and at a Cabinet meeting singled out several ministers including Coordinating Economic Minister Darmin Nasution, Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Ignasius Jonan and State Owned Enterprises Minister Rini Soemarno. The high-profile power blackout that affected the capital and much of Java back in August are unlikely to have helped the chances of the embattled responsible ministers.

Neither is the ongoing haze crisis affecting neighboring Malaysia and Singapore. The President himself complained how he had been embarrassed during recent trips to Kuala Lumpur and the island-state. Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya could be in the firing line.

Lastly, in addition to the demands of political parties - both those within the ruling coalition and those interested in joining it - are the President's own desires for more professional and younger faces in the Cabinet. During the election campaign, Jokowi attempted to appeal to millennial voters by portraying himself as accommodative to their needs.

The idea of appointing a young minister is an obvious next step. Indeed, the President once stated he was not opposed to the idea of having an individual in their 20s serving in his Cabinet. The recent student demonstrations against the government (and outgoing legislature) may provide an added incentive for Jokowi to appoint a younger face to regain millennial support.

Ultimately, President Jokowi holds the prerogative to select his Cabinet. On the one hand, his electoral victory gives him a strong position to make his own decisions, free from external pressure. Despite this, it cannot be denied that such external pressure does exist. Jokowi's desire to lead an inclusive government open to opposition parties joining is not without its costs.

Prabowo has demanded a say over energy and food policies, while the pro-Jokowi parties are against the idea of his Gerindra party obtaining Cabinet seats.

Jokowi's own PDI-P expects to be handsomely rewarded for its own electoral successes, with Megawati indicating she wants at least eight seats. Such pressures mean the President may not have the free hand he wishes to select his own Cabinet.

We can only wonder what this foretells for Indonesia's Working Cabinet 2.0.

[This article was first published in The Jakarta Post on 17th October 2019 and can be found at:]

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