Those who had expected President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to recruit la crème de la crème for his Indonesia Onward Cabinet must be disappointed with the lineup he announced on Wednesday. Just for the record, half of the 34 ministers are politicians, five are retired from the military, one is an active police general and several have been linked to cases the Corruption Eradication Commission has been investigating.
No less disturbing is the entry of the opposition Gerindra Party into the government and especially the appointment of its chairman, Prabowo Subianto, as defense minister. It is not only that Prabowo has been mired in accusations of involvement in past human rights violations and was Jokowi’s opponent in the bitterly contested April election; what matters is also the authority and the huge budget that is to go to the former Army general. As defense minister, Prabowo is part of the triumvirate, along with the foreign minister and the home minister, that would run the government if both the President and Vice President become permanently unable to perform their state duties.
Many eyebrows have been raised, too, as people try to understand why a young entrepreneur and founder of one of the country’s unicorns has been entrusted with the education and culture portfolio. Surely entrepreneurship and digital literacy elude most members of our younger generations, but national education as a platform for character building is so complex that one would expect the minister to be a person who has long been engaged in the field.
Also, many wonder about the reasons behind the appointment of former Indonesian Military (TNI) deputy commander Lt. Gen. Fachrul Razi as religious affairs minister. Although this phenomenon is not without precedent, it signals Jokowi’s intention to step up the fight against radicalism, which rights groups fear could shift to become a crackdown on government critics.
Similarly, with former National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian appointed home minister, a security approach is now on the horizon as the way the central government is to deal with regional governments. Jokowi has explicitly ordered Tito to ensure legal certainty, particularly in regions considered investment destinations.
Another cause for concern lies with the big coalition represented in the Cabinet lineup. As a politician, Jokowi must accommodate the interests of the political parties that supported his reelection, as well as those of the opposition, perhaps, for the sake of the political stability he needs to realize his dreams for a legacy.
However, such pragmatism is not without risks. Learning from the previous administration, a big coalition does not guarantee political stability as was evident in the acrimonious, tiring standoff between the President and his own allies over the Bank Century scandal. Such a brouhaha may recur as all parties are already preparing for the 2024 elections.
Certainly, President Jokowi has the prerogative to appoint and dismiss his aides, but democracy allows the public to question how he justifies his choices of Cabinet members. We don’t have a dream Cabinet, but we’d better give him the benefit of the doubt and let time tell whether he made the right decisions.