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Jakarta Post

A loyal opposition

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, June 14, 2019   /   08:43 am
A loyal opposition Incumbent President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo (left) and challenger Prabowo Subianto. (Shutterstock/zombiu26)

With national unity in mind, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has said he is open to the idea of the opposition Gerindra Party under long-time rival Prabowo Subianto joining his Cabinet when he takes office for the second and final term in October. Every leader is by nature a champion of unity and will do what it takes to keep his or her nation from disintegration.

Jokowi, too, grew up in and absorbed the Javanese culture that promotes, among other values, unity over division and harmony over discord. Therefore his plan, if any, to allow his nemesis to take part in a dream ruling coalition is unsurprising and should not necessarily generate misgivings.

His generous offer comes just after the nation was torn between the two candidates contesting the April 17 presidential election. The polarization dates back to 2014 when the rivalry between Jokowi and Prabowo began, regardless of their pledges and apparent efforts to build a “bromance” once the dust had settled.

Jokowi offered yet another olive branch to Prabowo by sending his aide to hold reconciliatory talks after the General Elections Commission (KPU) released its official vote count that confirmed Jokowi’s reelection on May 21. As we all know, however, certain parts of Jakarta burned as Prabowo supporters went on a rampage afterward. The police have arrested a number of people regarded as supporters of Prabowo and may charge them with treason for their role in the unrest.

Perhaps giving Prabowo a red carpet welcome into Jokowi’s ruling coalition may quickly heal the nagging wounds and douse the flames of enmity afflicting supporters of the two archrivals for many years. And as if to justify his bid for a “rainbow Cabinet” in an interview with The Jakarta Post on Tuesday, Jokowi said he could not develop a huge country like Indonesia all on his own.

The question is what Indonesian democracy would look like if the government went unopposed and unchallenged because everybody was in the same group. A healthy democracy needs a functioning checks-and-balances mechanism, which can come about if there is a credible opposition, which is ready not only to criticize but also warn the government of potential mistakes and misguidance.

Abuses of power, to which every ruler is susceptible, are unlikely to happen if checks and balances work. We saw this during the authoritarian New Order regime, when different voices were silenced for the sake of “national unity”.

To enable our democracy to advance, we badly need an opposition that is an equal sparring partner of the government, hence preventing the government from engaging in shadow boxing. Of course we are not talking about an opposition that has a penchant merely for attacking — oftentimes without evidence — or inciting hatred against the government, but one that rebukes the government simply for the good of the nation.

Prabowo and his Gerindra Party can take pride in playing such a key role for another five years, which will someday be rewarded as in the case of Jokowi’s own Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle.