Asia Pacific

Will Jokowi’s New Cabinet Bring Change to Indonesia?

Having won a second term in office, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has a chance to prove that promises are not just rhetoric.
Joko “Jokowi” Widodo news, Jokowi Indonesia, Jokowi cabinet, Jokowi government, Maruf Amin news, Indonesia news, Indonesia corruption news, Asia news, China Belt and Road Initiative Indonesia

President Jokowi, Indonesia Independence Day ceremony, 8/17/2019 © rima mariana oentoe / Shutterstock

October 28, 2019 08:44 EDT

On October 20, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Maruf Amin were officially sworn in as the president and vice president of Indonesia after winning the election in April. Three days later, President Jokowi officially installed his new cabinet. The figures in the new cabinet come from various circles: politics, business and academia. Its composition is different from the previous cabinet, with more political elites taking over government portfolios this time.

Now in his second term, Jokowi was more secretive about his new cabinet. There has been a widespread assumption that Jokowi didn’t have much say in selecting his cabinet, and that the selection process was conducted by his party leader, Megawati, the former president of Indonesia. The secrecy was said to be a cover for Jokowi’s weak position as head of state and to conceal any possible interference in the process.

The new cabinet includes some young ministers from various backgrounds who will represent the younger generation over the next five years. However, this does not mean that the emergence of these young politicians will make the cabinet a breakthrough one. With the majority of ministers continuing in office from the previous term, the Jokowi government is likely to stay on course with existing policies.

Some New, Some Old

Several new names are included on the Jokowi-Maruf cabinet. Among them are Mohammad Mahfud, known as Mahfud MD, as coordinating minister for politics and security, Prabowo Subianto as minister of defense and Tito Karnavian as minister of the interior. Mahfud had previously served as chairman of the constitutional court and as minister of defense during the leadership of President Abdurrahman Wahid. Mahfud replaces General Wiranto and will coordinate matters related to corruption, deradicalization and anti-terrorism.

It seems Jokowi chose Mahfud to fill the post because of his previous tenure as defense minister. Thus, Mahfud is expected to understand the problems plaguing the country, like the corruption case at the Bank Indonesia Liquidity Assistance and issues related to terrorism such as the existence of armed groups inspired by the so-called Islamic State.

Subianto, who has been Joko Widodo‘s rival in the two past presidential elections, was appointed as minister of defense. He is a businessman, politician and senior military officer and chairman of the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra). Speaking during the presidential debate, Prabowo felt that Indonesia’s defense budget is small compared to other countries, so it is likely that the defense sector will undergo changes. Some observers, like Muhamad Haripin from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, are wary of the appointment, suggesting the defense minister should come from civil society in order to achieve checks and balances on government policies.

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Because the previous minister of defense was a military man, Haripin thinks that his performance only benefited the military itself. For example, the increase in the defense budget was used not for improvement and development of defense technology, but on employee salaries. Intelligence and terrorism observer Stanislaus Riyanta says the work that Prabowo needed to do in the future was to strengthen Indonesia‘s defense against attacks using technology such as drones. In addition, Prabowo must also immediately resolve the conflict problem in Wamena, Papua, where violent confrontations have taken place between Indonesian security services and civilians, to maintain the country’s stability.

After retiring as the national police chief, Tito Karnavian was again entrusted to serve on the government bench. Like Mahfud, Tito is unlikely to depart from past policies. Both support Jokowi’s delay in the revision of the country’s criminal code bill, which was due to be revised during the president’s first term. The proposal caused public concern because of the contents of the law that may weaken several key institutions, particularly the corruption eradication commission and regulations relating to sexual crimes in Indonesia. This has led to student demonstrations over the rejection of the revised bill, causing the president to delay ratifying it.

Jokowi’s reappointment of Siti Nurbaya as minister of environment and Yasonna Lauli as minister of human rights suggests he does not take these two sectors seriously enough, despite recent nationwide student protests fueled by concerns over both. Nurbaya was known for her inability to resolve the problem of hazardous toxic waste and pollution during her tenure. Forest fires, which plague the country each year, have not been mitigated, causing chaos once again in September 2019.

Meanwhile, Laoli is widely considered to be soft on the issue of enforcing corruption convictions. An investigation in 2018 revealed the existence of fake cells for politicians serving time for corruption, where, for a sum of 200 million to 500 million rupiahs (around $14,250 to $35,600) they could live in luxury and come and go as they please.

Several other cabinet appointees who had served in the previous cabinet will continue their term in office. These include Maritime Minister Luhut Binsar Panjaitan, Economy Minister Sri Mulyani, Presidential Chief of Staff Moeldoko and Minister of the State Secretariat Pratikno. These experienced ministers are expected to continue with the same policies as before. For example, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan had previously represented Indonesia during the signing of contracts related to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects. As a result, various BRI initiatives have begun to be implemented, such as the Kualanamu International Airport and Sei Mangkei Industrial Zone. Thus, with Luhut remaining in his position, it is likely that Indonesia will continue strengthening its partnership with China during Jokowi’s second term.

The Young Guard

Indonesia is currently experiencing a demographic boom, with a median age of around 30. The nation’s young people want to see their own representatives in politics and convey their aspirations and ideas for progress in Indonesia. The Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) was created to fill the vacuum, with most of its members coming from the younger generation.

Jokowi took note of this trend, which is reflected in his cabinet. First, Nadiem Makarim, the new minister of education, is the founder of a startup focusing on a mobile app-based transportation service called Gojek. The company has become one of the biggest unicorns in Asia. Nadiem may not come from a career in education, but his innovation and creativity can be used as a reference for carrying out his new duties. In an interview, Nadiem said he would make changes in adjusting school curricula to market needs to make it easier for students to find jobs.

Wishnutama, who has been appointed as minister of tourism, comes from the media industry and is known for his company, NET TV. Wishnutama is known for his creativity and is expected to be able to integrate his experience in meeting the target of increasing the number of tourists and promoting foreign exchange in the country.

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Erick Thohir, who holds the position of minister of state-owned enterprises (SOEs), is an entrepreneur who is well known in the community. His appointment had a significant impact on SOE shares. The Indonesian Stock Exchange reported that 11 state-owned companies have performed better following this appointment. It is expected that under Thohir tenue, SOE companies will meet governmental targets that set the goal of Indonesia becoming a developed country by 2045, with a GDP per capita of $3,600.

The formation of what Jokowi calls as an “advanced Indonesian cabinet” provides a new challenge. The president must fulfill his five key campaign promises: human resource development, infrastructure development, simplification of regulations when it comes to jobs and starting a business, simplification of bureaucracy and economic transformation. These are all a continuation of his previous policies, which many critics have suggested have not fulfilled the goals set out during his first term, such as improving infrastructure and avoiding foreign debt. This is a big job for the president and a chance to prove that promises are not just rhetoric.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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