Early Friction

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  • TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - As predicted, President Joko Widodo eventually involved many political parties in his new cabinet. This was aimed at forming a government that is strong and effective, but it will bring many disadvantages. A coalition that is too large tends to lack unity and is prone to political friction, which disrupts the performance of the cabinet. 

    These signs appeared immediately after Jokowi announced the composition of the Indonesia Progress Cabinet. A number of parties were disappointed because they were not given ministerial posts as they had hoped. There were some parties supporting Jokowi who did not obtain a single-seat, either as minister or deputy ministers. The ripples of disappointment could trigger political moves that damage the solidarity of the coalition supporting the government.

    The actions of the National Democrat (NasDem) Party Chairman Surya Paloh are one example. At the end of October, he suddenly met with Justice and Prosperity Party (PKS) President Sohibul Iman at his office. After the meeting, Paloh said he was considering the option of becoming a ‘balancing force’ to the government, like the PKS. He also plans to open communications with other parties outside the cabinet, namely the National Mandate Party (PAN) and the Democrat party.

    These actions have the potential to cause problems for Jokowi because NasDem is part of the government. The party obtained three ministerial seats, as it did in the previous cabinet. However, the party has lost an important position, that of attorney general. This position, which was held by NasDem member M. Prasetyo, has been given to St. Burhanuddin, a senior prosecutor known to be close to the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).

    The inclusion of Gerindra Party Chairman Prabowo Subianto in the cabinet is reported to have angered NasDem. Prabowo, who is known to be close to PDI-P Chair Megawati Sukarnoputri, was appointed defense minister. This led to the NasDem Party having a less prominent role in the cabinet. And the party was made even more uncomfortable because Paloh and Megawati have become more distant as a number of regional heads proposed by the PDI-P have now moved to NasDem.

    Jokowi’s decision to form a large cabinet was actually based on two wrong assumptions. Firstly, Jokowi believes that his government will be stronger if it is supported by many parties. He forgets that the map of the House of Representatives (DPR) is highly dependent on the issue under deliberation. If it is seen as not beneficial, even coalition parties could turn against him. During Jokowi’s first administration, the PDI-P never supported government policies.

    The second mistaken assumption from Jokowi is that a broad coalition will make it easier for him to make policy decisions – which in general are oriented towards development. He believes that so far, many ‘good plans’ from the government have been delayed by the political process in the DPR. He forgets that there are never good plans without if they are not tested by a checks and balances process. Every plan is bound to have weaknesses.

    Now Jokowi has accommodated eight political parties, including the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) and the Indonesia Unity (Perindo) Party. This accommodative stance has triggered jealousy from the People's Conscience (Hanura) Party and the Indonesia Justice and Unity Party (PKPI). These two parties supported Jokowi since the previous administration were not awarded any ministerial or deputy ministerial posts.

    Disappointment has also been expressed by the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), a religious organization that usually supplies the religious affairs minister. Since the era of President Abdurrahman Wahid, the religious affairs minister has always come from the NU. In his first administration, Jokowi appointed NU man Lukman Hakim Saifuddin. But this time he has ignored this tradition by appointing retired general Fachrul Razi as religious affairs minister.

    Jokowi appointed Razi and gave him special responsibility for battling radicalism. This New Order-style strategy is a step too far, especially since he also gave the same responsibility to former police chief General Tito Karnavian, who was appointed home affairs minister. But radicalism can be overcome simply by strengthening the National Counterterrorism Agency.

    The appointment of several other ministers appears to have not been based on questionable considerations. The recruitment of the relatively young Nadiem Makarim, for example, was good. However, many people question whether he was given the right job. The founder of GoJek will lead the ministry of education and culture, a field that is completely new to him.

    Given the considerable number of problems with the new cabinet, do not be surprised if a number of political observers predict that there will be a cabinet reshuffle next year. This reshuffle would not be needed if the president had been more careful in building a coalition and appointing his new cabinet.

    Read the Complete Story in this Week's Edition of Tempo English Magazine