TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Former armed forces commander Moeldoko only enjoyed days of leisure for two years following his retirement in July 2015, before President Joko Widodo asked him to lead the Indonesian Farmers Federation (HKTI) in April, 2017. His next assignment from Jokowi was more personal, to deliver a welcome speech at the wedding of Jokowi's daughter, Kahiyang Ayu, last November although there are no blood ties between them.
Two months later in January, via a midnight WhatsApp message, Jokowi appointed him as presidential chief of staff. Moeldoko now heads an institution of intellectuals, experts and professionals who help the President with his duties somewhat similar to the White Houses West Wing. He succeeded Teten Masduki, who came from an NGO background.
Many believe that Moeldokos presence will further strengthen Jokowis camp in the 2019 presidential election. He complements the current team of generals, from both the armed forces and the national police, namely Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Wiranto; Maritime Affairs Coordinating Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan; Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu, National Intelligence Chief Budi Gunawan; as well as Subagyo H.S., Sidarto Danusubroto, Yusuf Kartanegara and Agum Gumelar who are on the Presidential Advisory Council. The armed forces offer an advantage, and that is loyalty, Moeldoko, 60, said. Recently, several surveys tipped him as Jokowi's potential running mate in the coming election.
Now, under Moeldoko's command, the presidential staff office (KSP) starts one hour earlier. Every day at 6:30am, he arrives at his office at Bina Graha, in the presidential palace compound, Central Jakarta, escorted by a police escort complete with sirens. "This is my style, (laughs)" he mused. Like his predecessors, the Kediri-born general occupies the office of former President Suharto, which is bulletproof and comes with an interconnected bedroom.
It was there that Moeldoko received Tempo’s Arif Zulkifli, Widiarsi Agustina and Reza Maulana last Wednesday for an interview. The one-and-a-half-hour interview was interspersed with bouts of laughter. The doctor of administration from the University of Indonesia only frowned when he made off-the-record remarks on the dangers of using hardline mass organizations for political purposes.
What was the rationale behind your appointment as presidential chief of staff by President Joko Widodo?
I just looked at it from a light, humanist angle. Perhaps because we used to work together for nine months (since Jokowi took office in October 2014 until the end of Moeldoko’s term as commander of the armed forces in July 2015). Maybe also because I am a romantic. As an army commander, I can be quite mellow at certain times (laughs).
Or is it to strengthen Jokowi’s position in the 2019 election?
I never see it in any other way except from a human relations angle. You get tired of talking about these issues. Since my retirement, I’ve really enjoyed what I do.
Were there specific instructions relating to your background?
Nothing specific. Look, the army offers an advantage, and that is loyalty. To whom? First, to the country. Then there is the head of state. Once a soldier is given a duty, he will be steadfast in seeing it through. I have to defend at all risks what my leader strives for. My leader means everything to me.
What are the risks?
I am ready to be a buffer for the President. If people are unhappy, just let me take the hit. No problem. But don’t direct (your frustrations) at the President. He has to think for the country.
We received information that you were asked to go to West Sumatra, West Java and West Nusa Tenggara where Jokowi lost during the 2014 elections.
Are there only three regions in Indonesia? Let’s speak (of this) as a whole. The government has achieved so much, but communications have not been developed well, so it’s as if people in remote areas have not benefitted.
So is it true that Jokowi asked you to help garner votes in these regions?
There was no such instruction.
Having represented the family at the wedding of Jokowi’s daughter last November, do you consider yourself as the President’s trusted ally?
We can’t speculate other people’s level of trust (in us). It would make us seem arrogant (laughs).
How often did you communicate with Jokowi before your appointment as presidential chief of staff?
Prior to the wedding, he tasked me with improving the Indonesian Farmers’ Federation perhaps because he knew I was an agrarian activist.
How well do you know him?
Many people say that the President is not firm, etc. These are misconceptions. A leader should be judged by the directions he gives. His directions are very clear and unambiguous. Such clear directions require firmness.
Can you give an example?
Why should I explain (laughs)? For example, the President works hard but many people don’t know that. This I need to reiterate.
Surveys say that you have an opportunity to run alongside Jokowi in the 2019 elections...
Read the full interview in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine