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[John McBeth] Jokowi’s cabinet: Hard to form, facing hard work

Oct. 30, 2014 - 20:42 By Korea Herald
After being promised a free hand to choose his cabinet, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo discovered ― perhaps not to his complete surprise ― that it was anything but free in a behind-the-scenes tussle with both Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) leader Megawati Sukarnoputri and Vice-President Jusuf Kalla.

In fact, since his festive Oct. 20 inauguration, he has been taking more fire from inside the camp than from the outside, where opposition leader Prabowo Subianto’s Red and White Coalition is waiting to put away the truce flag and come out shooting.

In the end, Joko was forced to give ground on several fronts, most notably in his choice of coordinating minister for security and political affairs, where retired navy commander Tedjo Edhy Purdijatno, 62, was preferred ahead of Luhut Panjaitan, who is being lined up for the arguably more powerful job of presidential chief of staff.

Purdijatno was a better choice than widely tipped People’s Conscience (Hanura) Party chairman and former armed forces chief Wiranto, still under United Nations indictment for crimes against humanity over his refusal to take command responsibility for the bloodshed in the former East Timor in 1999.

Panjaitan, 67, a retired special forces general and former ambassador to Singapore, has been a business partner and friend of Joko since 2008, supplying the latter’s furniture business with timber from a rainforest concession he owns in the upper reaches of East Kalimantan.

With PDI-P largely absent from the campaign, Panjaitan and his team of 15 other senior officers played a crucial role in Joko’s narrow victory over Prabowo.

But that cut little ice with Megawati, whose dislike for Panjaitan goes back to 2000 when she asked him to decline the post of trade minister after the wily Abdurrahman Wahid had outmanoeuvred her in the People’s Consultative Assembly to win the 1999 presidential election.

He refused, but was in the job for only a year before Abdurrahman was impeached.

Megawati was reportedly concerned he would have too much influence over Joko.

But if he is appointed head of the Office of the President, he will have that and more in helping to formulate policy and protect the president’s back, something Joko will need in the turbulent days ahead.

In fact, with mild-mannered Gadjah Mada University rector Pratikno, 52, now in charge of the State Secretariat, the team of presidential office loyalists could well take the dominant role at the palace, leaving the bureaucrats to tackle mostly legal and other administrative duties.

Megawati clearly had her way in the appointment of former army chief Ryamizard Ryacudu, 64, as defence minister.

An ultranationalist, Ryamizard opposed the 2005 Aceh peace accords, and is likely to offer a similarly deaf ear to those looking for a solution to the ongoing separatist struggle in Papua.

On record as saying the only answer to separatism is military action, the former commander of a United Nations peacekeeping battalion in the Cambodian hot spot of Kampong Thom was also against Indonesian officers training in the United States.

Joko had little choice either in selecting Megawati’s daughter Puan Maharani, 41, PDI-P’s parliamentary leader, as coordinating minister for human development and culture, one of eight women in a 34-strong Cabinet.

New state enterprises minister Rini Soemarno, 56, is a businesswoman in her own right and perhaps Megawati’s closest confidante.

But it may have been a near thing, given that she was at one point in danger of being implicated in the Anti-Corruption Commission’s (KPK) screening process.

As it was, seven names were dropped from Joko’s provisional 43-strong list because of red-flag objections from either the KPK or the Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre, in what was seen as a clever way to winnow out at least some of the unwanted chaff.

Soemarno had been expected to be made economic coordinating minister, but that job went instead to Sofyan Djalil, 61, a member of vice-president Kalla’s inner circle who, as state enterprises minister, broke new ground by bringing in smart, private sector professionals to run several key state-owned companies.

One of the products of that hugely successful experiment is transportation minister Ignasius Jonan, 51.

The Singapore-born president-director of state-owned Kereta Api Indonesia has performed wonders with the loss-making railway company and was always on Joko’s radar.

For all his demands, however, what Kalla was using as leverage is difficult to fathom.

He was not Joko’s first choice and he has failed to deliver the Golkar Party to the ruling coalition, something he was able to do when he served as Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s vice-president in 2004.

Joko acknowledged that while there were many ministerial candidates with the required intelligence, it was a lot more difficult to find those with a graft-free record and what he called “originality and character” who could also deal with a rambunctious Parliament.

The new ministers should be in no doubt about what is expected of them. “Work, work, work” is a refrain Joko has been repeating for weeks.

At his inauguration, he used the word 15 times in a brief speech ― mostly in concert with “hard”.

Tempo magazine even ran an Oct 20 cover picture of the one-time furniture maker planing a slab of wood, chequered shirt open to reveal a T-shirt which its reporters discovered to their delight was bought at a cheap clothing outlet.

The cover line: “Democracy at Work.”

Given the battles he has already had to fight inside the tent, the going is likely to get even rougher in the months ahead as his minority five-party coalition seeks to roll back burdensome fuel subsidies and take on the vested interests who want business as usual.

By John McBeth

John McBeth is a senior writer for the Straits Times. ― Ed.

(Asis News Network)