July 19, 2023
JAKARTA – With just over a year left of his second term in office, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo introduced on Monday a handful of loyalists into his Cabinet in a move that political observers say would help him consolidate power and chart a path to sustaining his legacy beyond the 2024 elections.
Exactly one month before his State of the Nation address, where he will table his last state budget for deliberation, Jokowi initiated a surprise Cabinet shake-up that saw him award the leaders of longtime volunteer supporter groups. He also expanded his loyalist base with people from his early campaigning days as well as the private sector.
To fill the gap left by embattled NasDem Party senior politician Johnny G. Plate, the President named Budi Arie Setiadi the new communications and information minister, promoting him from his previous post of deputy minister for villages, disadvantaged regions and transmigration.
Budi is the leader of ProJo, one of Jokowi’s most prominent volunteer groups that has backed him since 2013 and was pivotal in both the 2014 and 2019 election triumphs. Budi is a close ally of Jokowi and continues to hold influence over tens of thousands of Jokowi fans, even as he nears the end of his presidency.
The President also carved out the new post of deputy communications and information minister and appointed to it former editor-in-chief of The Jakarta Post, Nezar Patria, whose last position in government was as an expert staff member of the State-Owned Enterprises Ministry.
Paiman Raharjo, the head of Sedulur Jokowi, another prominent volunteer group, will succeed Budi Arie in his previous post. The group was reportedly formed in 2012, when Jokowi was still a fresh face in national politics and was looking to compete in the Jakarta leadership race.
Indonesian Ambassador to the United States and former head of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin), Rosan P. Roeslani, was promoted to deputy SOEs minister, replacing Pahala N. Mansury, who will become deputy foreign minister.
Nezar and Pahala are both from the SOEs Ministry, while Rosan worked alongside Erick as a member of Jokowi’s election campaign team in 2019, and before that in the Indonesian Young Entrepreneurs Association (HIPMI), like some other members of Jokowi’s closest circle.
Sign of change?
United Development Party (PPP) politician Syaiful Rahmat Dasuki rounds out the appointments as deputy religious affairs minister, replacing fellow party cadre Zainut Tauhid, who is joining the 2024 legislative elections.
Jokowi also hired former PPP chairman Djan Faridz and Indonesian envoy to South Korea Gandi Sulistiyanto to sit on the Presidential Advisory Board (Wantimpres).
Speaking to the press after the inauguration ceremony, President Jokowi insisted that everyone would have to start work promptly, considering what little time remains before the end of the administration’s term.
“All of them [were inaugurated] with the main purpose of hitting the ground running,” he said at the Presidential Palace in Central Jakarta.
Jokowi also said he was open to more Cabinet shake-ups down the line.
The latest reshuffle, according to analysts, is heavily influenced by Jokowi’s own political agenda, as he is keen to show that he is not a lame duck president. They also said he placed loyalists in “key positions” for the remainder of his term heading into next year’s elections.
“Jokowi’s interests are to continue securing the support of and giving back to the people who have been pivotal [in his election wins],” Firman Noor of the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) told the Post on Monday.
Citing Budi’s new position, Firman said having a loyalist as communications and information minister could give Jokowi some influence over the media narrative when he leaves office in October of next year.
Separately, Arya Fernandes of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) posited that Jokowi’s choice of Cabinet additions from his pool of loyalists, rather than from members of the grand coalition, is to ensure that they stay motivated to see through the administration’s remaining projects.
“Heading closer to next year’s elections, political party members would be increasingly focused on the election itself rather than their work as ministers. So, Jokowi wants [his loyalists] to focus solely on their new tasks,” Arya told the Post on Monday.
Monday’s reshuffle comes at a time when speculation is rife that Jokowi prefers to back Gerindra Party chairman Prabowo Subianto to succeed him next year, as opposed to supporting fellow Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) politician Ganjar Pranowo’s election bid.
While the PDI-P has brushed off such speculation, a string of private meetings between Jokowi and Prabowo over the past month have thrown doubt on the narrative.
Budi of ProJo recently heaped praise on Prabowo after talks with the defense minister’s own supporter group earlier this month, just as Jokowi’s other supporter groups have switched allegiances from Ganjar to Prabowo.
Firman of BRIN said it was “logical” to suggest that Budi’s appointment as minister was more proof that Jokowi could be leaning more toward Prabowo.
“He is also trying to show that he no longer needs the PDI-P [to achieve his political ambitions],” he added.
Two politicians from the PDI-P told the Post on Monday that the ruling party would respect the President’s decision to appoint non-party figures ahead of the election, as long as they work professionally.