October 9, 2023
JAKARTA – President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is planning what could be the last cabinet shake-up of his presidency amid a changing political landscape ahead of next year’s general election.
One day after NasDem Party politician Syahrul Yasin Limpo resigned from his post as agriculture minister over a probe into alleged corruption at the ministry, the President said on Friday that he would reshuffle his cabinet “as soon as possible” and appoint a definitive replacement for Syahrul.
Jokowi has, for the interim, named National Food Agency chairman Arief Prasetyo Adi as acting agriculture minister.
Given that the coming reshuffle could well be Jokowi’s last, analyst Ujang Komarudin predicted that the President would use it to consolidate power.
“The next reshuffle could ultimately boil down to a strategy to respond to the current political constellation ahead of next year’s presidential election,” Ujang said.
As the February 2024 presidential election draws closer, the coalition of parties supporting the Jokowi administration has seen some members shift allegiance to opposition presidential candidates.
Two pro-government parties – NasDem, led by media mogul Surya Paloh, and the National Awakening Party (PKB), the country’s largest Islam-based party – have forged an electoral alliance with the opposition Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) to back the presidential bid of Anies Baswesan, who has reportedly not been on good terms with the President.
This, analysts say, suggests the waning of Jokowi’s influence as the end of his presidency nears.
Read also: Embattled minister strikes back at KPK
While both NasDem and the PKB have opted to stay in the ruling coalition, the two parties have been increasingly critical of the Jokowi administration, as demonstrated by Surya’s critique of Jokowi’s presidential pledge to bring about a “mental revolution” and PKB chairman Muhaimin Iskandar’s open disapproval of the government’s recent ban on e-commerce transactions on social media platforms such as TikTok.
Speculation has been rife that Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar, the remaining NasDem politician in the cabinet, is on thin ice amid Jakarta’s dire pollution problem and a series of wildfires in recent weeks.
Another post thought to be up for grabs is that of the youth and sports minister. The position is currently held by Golkar Party member Dito Ariotedjo, whose name emerged in court testimony as one of a group of officials who allegedly received kickbacks in connection with the government’s graft-ridden 4G base transceiver station (BTS) telephony project.
It is unlikely, however, that Jokowi will make sweeping changes to his cabinet, analyst Agung Baskoro said, as stability remained key to maintaining an effective administration at the end of his presidency.
“A major realignment of his cabinet ahead of the end of his presidency would risk instability in the ruling coalition and his government, which would undermine the future of his legacy programs,” Agung said.
A more conservative reshuffle, Agung said, involving the replacement of three or four ministers who had been implicated in corruption cases or were perceived to be performing their job poorly, was more probable.
Some observers have speculated that the President could invite the country’s largest opposition party into his cabinet, following an unexpected meeting between Jokowi and former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, founder and patriarch of the Democratic Party, last week at Bogor Palace in West Java.
After initially backing Anies’ presidential bid, the Democrats have thrown their weight behind Prabowo, who has sought to portray himself as Jokowi’s political successor and is now part of an electoral alliance that claims to be “team Jokowi”. Prabowo’s camp mostly consists of parties loyal to the President, such as Gerindra, Golkar, the National Mandate Party (PAN) and the smaller Crescent Star Party (PBB), which is not represented in the legislature.
“Jokowi may now need the Democratic Party to help maintain the conduciveness of his administration,” Agung said. “Offering the opposition party [a seat in] the cabinet would come with the expectation of the Democrats ditching their political campaign as change-bringers.”
On Sunday evening, Syahrul met with Jokowi at the Merdeka Palace in Central Jakarta following the former minister’s resignation last week. Syarul reportedly presented a final report of his work to the President at the closed-door meeting.