Jokowi places more loyalists in top positions ahead of elections

The appointments coincided with three-time presidential candidate and erstwhile Jokowi rival Prabowo registering for the next year’s election with Gibran as his running mate.

Yerica Lai

Yerica Lai

The Jakarta Post


President Joko “Jokowi“ Widodo (right) greets newly appointed Agriculture Minister Amran Sulaiman (left) after the latter's inauguration at the State Palace in Jakarta on Oct. 25, 2023. PHOTO: ANTARA/ THE JAKARTA POST

October 26, 2023

JAKARTA – President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo appointed more loyalists to top positions on Wednesday as the end of his presidency approaches, a move that analysts say is likely meant to accommodate allies whom he can rely on to ensure the political future of his eldest son without escalating tensions with the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).

The changes come just three months after Jokowi installed another handful of loyalists in his cabinet.

In a ceremony at the State Palace on Wednesday, the President named Amran Sulaiman the new agriculture minister to replace NasDem Party member Syahrul Yasin, who resigned earlier this month over a corruption investigation at the ministry. NasDem supports opposition presidential candidate Anies Baswedan.

Amran, whose education and career have revolved around agriculture, returns to the same position he held from 2014 to 2019, during Jokowi’s first term.

He is a longtime Jokowi supporter who coordinated an eastern Indonesia supporters’ group during Jokowi’s 2014 election campaign.

Amran, who is unaffiliated with any political party, has forged close ties with presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto of the Gerindra Party, who is running with Jokowi’s son and vice presidential candidate Gibran Rakabuming Raka in next year’s election and has pledged to continue Jokowi’s policies and programs. Amran and Prabowo have met several times over the past few months, culminating in the retired general hinting in early August that Amran could help him with his presidential campaign.

Also at Wednesday’s ceremony, the President promoted Lt. Gen. Agus Subiyanto, a former commander of the Presidential Security Detail (Paspampres), from Army deputy chief of staff to Army chief of staff to replace Gen. Dudung Abdurachman, who retires next month.

Pak President asked me to make things conducive in all regions during the upcoming [presidential and legislative] elections,” Agus said.

Prior to his 2022 appointment as the Army deputy chief of staff, Agus served as the Paspampres commander in 2020-2021. He previously served as the Surakarta District Command (Kodim) commander from 2009 to 2011, when Jokowi was mayor of Surakarta.

Speculation had been rife that Agus could be next in line for the post of Indonesian Military (TNI) commander, as the term of incumbent TNI commander Adm. Yudo Margono ends this year.

Rewarding support

Wednesday’s appointments coincided with three-time presidential candidate and erstwhile Jokowi rival Prabowo registering for the next year’s election with Gibran as his running mate. Their ticket is backed by the majority of parties in Jokowi’s governing coalition.

Political insiders say Jokowi, who stands to lose a significant amount of power after he leaves the presidency given that he does not hold a leadership position in the PDI-P, has been covertly marshaling support for Prabowo and securing his son’s vice presidential candidacy.

Prabowo and Gibran will be up against the PDI-P’s presidential candidate, Ganjar Pranowo, and his running mate Mahfud MD, as well as the Anies-Muhaimin Iskandar pairing, making for a three-way race to succeed Jokowi.

“There is little doubt that Wednesday’s appointments were fueled by political considerations, among other factors,” analyst Agung Baskoro said.

In July, Jokowi promoted Budi Arie Setiadi, a leader of ProJo, Jokowi’s largest supporter group, from a deputy ministerial post to communications and information minister, and he made the former head of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin), Rosan P. Roeslani, deputy SOEs minister. Budi’s ProJo and Rosan have recently announced their support for Prabowo.

The string of appointments of Jokowi loyalists to top posts this year has been largely seen as the President rewarding allies who back his preferred successor.

Maintaining relations

While Jokowi seemed “very confident” about the extent of his power even though his presidency was almost over, analyst Agung said, he still needed the PDI-P to ensure his administration’s stability in his final year in office.

This was reflected in the way Jokowi did not oust figures close to PDI-P chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri from any strategic posts, nor bring in figures with a history of deep opposition to the PDI-P, such as the Democratic Party, the largest opposition party in the legislature.

Amran’s appointment on Wednesday dispelled speculation that the President would invite the Democratic Party into the fold and grant its leader, Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, the agriculture minister post following the party’s decision to back Prabowo’s candidacy.

National Intelligence Agency (BIN) chief Budi Gunawan has maintained his post despite previous speculation that the President might have been considering replacing him. Budi served as an aide to Megawati during her presidency from 2001 to 2004 and has a strong personal relationship with her.

Removing Budi could have provoked an open conflict between the President and Megawati, Agung said.

“While the PDI-P appears to be treading carefully in its response to Jokowi’s ambitions, Jokowi is also still trying to prevent tensions between him and the PDI-P from escalating, which would potentially destabilize the political climate and his government’s stability,” he said.

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