Jokowi's first test

Indonesia's new president forms a cabinet that keeps many factions happy without sacrificing integrity.

The cabinet lineup of new President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo shows that succumbing to political compromise is inevitable in a country where an array of parties and interests exists.

Forming a cabinet was the first big hurdle after the Oct 20 inauguration of the small-town furniture businessman who went from being mayor of Solo, population 500,000, to the leader of Indonesia's 245 million people in less than five years.

The 34-strong cabinet was finally introduced after a political tug-of-war and delays that resulted after some candidates' names were flagged for suspicions of bribery by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) and the Financial Transactions Reports and Analysis Centre (PPATK). The cabinet comprises 14 political appointees and 20 business professionals with close ties to the political elite and technocrats.

Jokowi and Vice President Jusuf Kalla wooed voters with a promise to form a "lean" and "non-transactional" cabinet in their campaign.

"The [selection] process was done meticulously and it was a priority because the cabinet will work for the next five years. I wanted to get people with clean records, that's why I consulted the KPK and PPATK," Jokowi said as he announced the ministers' names at the presidential palace on Oct 26

The cabinet sets a record with the appointment of eight female ministers. They include the daughter former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, the head of Jokowi's party and still a major powerbroker, the country's first female foreign minister and the first female minister from the easternmost province of Papua, professors and a self-made fisheries entrepreneur who did not graduate from high school.

Megawati's daughter, 41-year-old Puan Maharani was named coordinating minister for human development and culture, a newly created post. A coordinating minister oversees several ministries, eight ministers in Puan's case, which includes key posts of health and education.

Susi Pudjiastuti, a fisheries exporter and owner of aviation company Susi Air, was named as minister for fisheries and maritime affairs, which will be an instrumental part of Jokowi's "maritime axis" platform.

Before her appointment as foreign minister, career diplomat Retno Marsudi was ambassador to the Netherlands. Prior to that, she was director-general for America and Europe and ambassador to Norway and Iceland.

Rafendi Djamin, executive director of the Human Rights Working Group (HRWG), is optimistic about Indonesia's commitment to human rights under Retno's leadership since she was a member of the fact-finding mission into the death of Munir, a human rights activist who was poisoned to death during a flight to Amsterdam.

"She is well versed on impunity and legal issues like that," Rafendi told Asia Focus.

But Rafendi criticised the appointment of retired general Ryamizard Ryacudu, who has tainted human rights record, as defence minister. Ryamizard's appointment marked the return of a military man to the ministry, which has been led by civilians since the fall of the Suharto regime in 1998.

"Even though he's now retired and technically a civilian, this is still a setback to the ongoing reforms of the defence and security sector in which a purely civilian supremacy should be maintained," Rafendi said.

Ryamizard has close ties to Megawati and was the army chief of staff in her administration. According to East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN), Ryamizard is a hardliner known for his xenophobic remarks and criticism of rights activists, and has expressed doubts about civilian supremacy over the military.

John Miller, coordinator of ETAN, condemned the appointment of Ryamizard, saying he had a history of "asserting the military's right to meddle in civilian affairs".

"While fighting corruption may be a priority for Jokowi's administration, he certainly didn't take into account Ryamizard's well-reported statements on human rights. This speaks volumes about the importance of human rights to Jokowi," Miller said in a statement.

Jokowi's economic team didn't fare better compared to its defence colleague as it failed to stir positive notes from economist and market.

The economics team is led by Sofyan Djalil as the coordinating economics minister and Bambang Brodjonegoro as finance minister. Both men served in former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's administration with Sofyan as state-owned enterprises minister and information and communications minister and Bambang as deputy finance minister. Rini Sumarno, a former trade and industry minister in Megawati's administration and former head of Jokowi's transition team was named as the state-owned enterprises minister.

Latif Adam, an economist with the Indonesia Institute to Sciences, likened the economic team to a car with different-sized wheels, which could struggle to speed up to achieve the target of 7% economic growth.

"Some of them are lacking in integrity, competence and communications skills to deal with a parliament dominated by the parties that don't support Jokowi's administration and the networking skills to deal with foreign counterparts," Latif said.

The appointment of Saleh Husin, a politician from the People's Conscience Party and one of the parties that backed Jokowi, also raised a question by political analyst Margarito Kamis.

"We rarely heard his views on industry in the public records," he said, although overall he believes the "working cabinet", as the president described it, is not so bad.

"We have to give them a chance to work and see whether they can perform well because Jokowi's leadership is at stake here," Margarito said.

About the author

Writer: Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata