Jokowi: A Crossroads between Power, Principle
One of the many campaign promises that Joko Widodo set out to achieve when he was elected President was to make sure that politicians did not have a dual role in government as well as in their respective political parties. Indeed, disapproval was rising by the end of the Yudhoyono administration as the public saw ministers also occupy roles of party chairman, Suryadharma Ali, Muhaimin Iskandar and Hatta Rajasa served as an example of people who carried that distinction.
To their defense, President Yudhoyono also served as his party’s chairman—a position that he has so far not relinquished. Yudhoyono’s cabinet was filled with party leaders, a picture that the public were more than eager do away with in the next election.Candidate “Jokowi”—a nickname that has been permanently marked in the psyche of Indonesian households—represented that breath of fresh air. He has and still does not have an official position within his own party, going in line to his maxim of kerja, kerja dan kerja (work, work and work). However, as2019 looms closer into Jokowi’s presidency he is left to make the bitter but necessary choice: compromising his principles to continue into a second term.
Since the beginning of his presidency, his message was clear: no cabinet official was to hold a position within the political parties they were associated with. This created early sparks between Widodo and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) who pushed to retain Puan Maharani, the daughter of Party Chairwoman and Indonesian Kingmaker Megawati Soekarnoputri. All other party officials adhered to this rule, even Tjajho Kumolo who as PDIP’s then Secretary-General, stepped down before filling the post of Minister for Home Affairs.
This was an early sign that Jokowi—as principled he campaigned himself to be—had to still create some allowances, feeding into the favoritism that the political elite has always expected to receive. Puan Maharani later retained her position and as the party’s own way of compromise, allowed her to keep the title of PDIP czar for Politics and Security but with a non-active status. At the end of the day, he needed to curry with the demands and conditions of political parties or risk having substantial policies blocked or stalled. This was especially required due to the fact that he didn’t have leverage of his own between political parties and thus needed to maneuver the goodwill of party officials to bring influence.
As the President steadily consolidated power and political leverage in the country, he gradually seemed to have kept his principles back on track. Sutiyoso who served as Party Chairman for the Indonesian Justice and Unity Party (PKPI) stepped down to take the top spot at Indonesia’s State Intelligence Agency and Wiranto, who was not only Party Chairman of the People’s Conscience Party (Hanura) but also its founder, handed leadership to Oesman Sapta Odang in favor of becoming Coordinating Minister for Politics, Law and Security. In retrospect, these were easy consolations to fulfillJokowi’s values. PKPI for example, commanded no seats in parliament and it might actually be better in the long run for these New Order former generals to end their careers with celebrated and strategic government positions.
The question remains of whether the President should operate differently when facing political juggernauts that can very well make or break his bid for a second term. The dilemma stands towards the position of Industry Minister held by newly elected Golkar Chairman and Jokowi supporter Airlangga Hartarto and whether or not he should be reshuffled out of office or stay as minister to retain a direct line of communication with the President. At the same time, media pundits, political insiders and policy wonks are awaiting Khofifah Indar Parawansa’s successor for Social Minister as she launches her own campaign for Governor of East Java and thus strengthening opinions that Hartarto should also tender his resignation. With this the President is at a crossroads where he has to choose between principles and power.
And with that being said, Jokowi must pick the latter. The President is at a strategic moment to retain Hartarto’s position and maintain a good relationship with Golkar’s leader because of three reasons. First, his poll numbers are relatively high which gives him political capital to spare. Second, media fixture is now towards the regional elections and third, he has precedent on his side which takes the form of his Vice President, Jusuf Kalla. Similar to Hartarto, Kalla ascended as Golkar’s leader a few weeks before being inaugurated as Vice President in 2004 and showed that a party chairmanship can actually push policies in a fashion much quicker than an “independent” can.
With this, the President needs to make sure that he can depend on the Vice President as a figure who has been under similar circumstances as Hartarto and justify for the possibility that the Industry Minister will still keep his position in government. So far Kalla has done so, drawing a distinction between Parawansa’s duties as a campaigner who has to travel around East Java religiously to earn their vote and Hartarto’s responsibilities as Party Chairman which, in Kalla’s own experience, can be done in the evenings.
Although the statement might not play as well if the media was not so fixated about the impending drama surrounding the regional elections, that justification is enough for now but the Vice President and members of the Widodo Administration still need to create a stronger argument in keeping Hartarto in the cabinet.
President Widodo is still in the safe zone to make a small U-turn of his principles in an effort to maintain power and influence for 2019, but the President needs to remember that it was those principles and values that got him elected. So for now, he needs to walk as he always has, on a thin line between implementing the values of growth and development he sincerely wants whilst making sure that potential threats to his presidency are mitigated—an altogether shrewd move on the President’s part. He just need to be weary of the fact that it was his principles that won him the presidency, not his association with the political elite.
Raafi Seiff is the Founder of the Good Governance Initiative and studies law at Universitas Indonesia. The views expressed are his own.
Artikel ini dimuat di Opinion The Jakarta Post (Selasa, 17 Januari 2018).