‘Gado-gado’ Cabinet shows compromise

  • ASEAN+
  • Thursday, 24 Oct 2019

Working together: (From left) Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, Prabowo and State Secretary Pratikno posing during a photo session at Merdeka Palace in Jakarta. — AFP

SINGAPORE: The new 34-strong Cabinet unveiled by Indonesian President Joko Widodo has left some scratching their heads.

Comprising a motley mix of newcomers and old hands, technocrats and politicians including opposition figures, some analysts have dubbed it the “Cabinet of compromise”.

This is likely the outcome of intense jockeying for power by political parties as Joko, or Jokowi as he is better known, tried to cobble together what he called his “Kabinet Indonesia Maju”, or “Onward Indonesia Cabinet”, of technocratic ministers.

“This is a ‘gado-gado’ Cabinet to make all parties happy,” Titi Anggraini, executive director of the Association for Elections and Democracy, said.

Gado-gado is a local salad of assorted vegetables in peanut sauce, but it also literally means “mixing” in Bahasa Indonesia.

More than a third of first-term ministers have retained their posts, including Finance Minister Dr Sri Mulyani Indrawati, a former World Bank managing director, and Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly, a seasoned politician from the country’s biggest political party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).

Analysts say the re-appointment of the highly capable Dr Sri Mulyani would be a boost to the economic team and a stabilising figure to help Joko lift growth, reform labour laws and boost investments in South-East Asia’s largest economy.

Fresh faces with impressive credentials include co-founder of ride-hailing company Gojek, Nadiem Makarim, 35, who was appointed education and cultural affairs minister, and television veteran Wishnutama, 43, who got the post of tourism minister.

While the newcomers have yet to prove if they can withstand the pressures of bureaucracy, they bring to the table their expertise in their various fields.

Nadiem, for instance, could draw from his experience of growing Gojek into Indonesia’s first start-up unicorn to help improve the country’s digital ecosystem, such as in the areas of licensing, infrastructure and taxation, said Institute for Development of Economics and Finance economist Bhima Yudhistira Adhinegara.

“Nadiem’s appointment demonstrated Jokowi’s focus to grow the digital economy sector and create millions of new jobs,” he said.

Indonesia has the fifth-largest number of Internet users in the world, and management consulting firm McKinsey has predicted that the country can grow its economy by US$150bil (RM627bil) by 2025 if it embraces digitalisation. That is equivalent to 10% of Indonesia’s gross domestic product.

However, analysts were less impressed by the appointment of Prabowo Subianto as defence minister. Prabowo, a former army general and chairman of opposition party Gerindra, had fiercely challenged Joko in the 2014 and 2019 presidential elections.

His inclusion, as well as that of other political appointees, showed compromise and the reality of political patronage, analysts said.

While many Indonesians were disappointed, some believed it was a gesture of unity by Joko.

“Democracy has lost a significant opposition force in Parliament,” Indonesian Institute of Sciences (Lipi) political expert Syamsuddin Haris said.

“Embracing political opponents is certainly positive, but it should not be for the purpose of sharing power. The approach to embracing Gerindra should be by letting it become a loyal opposition to the government,” he added.

But analysts also recognised the need for Joko to form new allies outside his ruling coalition to resist pressures from powerful elites, given that he holds no leadership position in his PDI-P.

“Jokowi’s offer to Prabowo could also be read as his efforts to escape from being potentially held hostage to his coalition partners, and also to maintain a distance from PDI-P and its chairman Megawati Soekarnoputri,” said Syamsuddin.

Analysts say it is too early to judge how well the new Cabinet will perform and only time will tell if the ministers are worth their salt.

“They will have to face the bureaucracy for the first time, which is, of course, not easy. They will also have to deal with the interests of the political parties. Some ministers are also party leaders. Of course, that will also affect their performance,” said Titi.

Agreeing, Dr Firman Noor, head of Lipi’s Political Research Centre, said: “The quality of the government cannot be assessed yet. Whether or not it is solid, the potential is there.” — The Straits Times/ANN

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