The Jakarta Post
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has a dream start to his second term in office. With a bigger mandate, politically he is at his most powerful, having taken the oath of office as president for 2019-2024 on Sunday.
But the challenges facing him are more complex now, raising questions over whether he can move faster or lead as effectively as he has these past five years.
Besides winning the April presidential race with a 10-percent margin as opposed to 5 percent, five political parties endorsed his reelection, compared to only four parties five years ago.
Together, the five parties already control 60 percent of the 575-seat House of Representatives. The coalition government is bolstered by two or even possibly three opposition parties who crossed the aisle, or would do so, before or after Sunday’s inauguration. His coalition controls the House’s legislative agenda from the word go.
In 2014, he started as a novice in national politics with seven years of experience as mayor of Surakarta in Central Java and governor of Jakarta. He now has clocked five years of managing the political complexities of governing a country of over 270 million people.
With no reelection worries, the populist President can afford to do what needs to be done, without worrying too much about losing his popularity.
Indonesia is never short of challenges — the solutions of which require sacrifices or could upset the powerful elites — that only a strong president could push. These include addressing long-standing human rights problems, ending the persecution of minority groups and phasing out wasteful fuel subsidies.
Recent events, however, particularly the battle with the House over the future of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) and the plan for the new Criminal Code (KUHP), have put a reality check on Jokowi’s powers.
Indonesia’s multiparty electoral system requires the president, who is elected separately, to work with the House. Since Jokowi does not chair or control any political party, he relies on the coalition of political parties to help pass the laws he needs.
From 2014 to 2019, he governed effectively by parceling out Cabinet seats to parties. He often set one party against another and reshuffled the Cabinet twice to ensure no one party held sway over him. Resistance to his policies often came from his own Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the largest in his coalition, rather than from opposition parties.
Now, both Jokowi and the political parties in his coalition have 2024 in mind for different reasons: he for his legacy and they for the next elections.
These two different objectives are not always in conflict.
When Jokowi asked for their support to move the national capital out of Jakarta, he did not find much resistance. Just a lot of skepticism.
Now with the parties pushing for amending the Constitution to change the rules of the political game, he is not stopping them. He has neither the clout nor any direct personal interest in doing so. His presidency is good until 2024.
But there will be times when their interests clash, as they did last month.
Jokowi seems to be losing the battle over the new KPK Law, which weakens the antigraft agency, making it almost ineffective. With all parties in the House having pushed for the new KPK Law, he had little chance of stopping it. The most he could do was refuse to sign the bill, which he did. But the bill automatically became law on Thursday, one month after the House’s endorsement.
The passing of the new KPK Law by the House last month sparked massive and unfortunately fatal protests nationwide led by students. Police tried to suppress them even as Jokowi openly appealed to let them exercise free speech.
He invited over 40 activists selected from the progressive camp, led by senior journalist Goenawan Mohamad, to the Presidential Palace, where he promised to consider issuing an executive order, a regulation in lieu of law, to rescind the new KPK Law.
The President can still issue the order in the coming days if he wants to, renewing the battle with the House.
If Jokowi seems to be losing the fight over the KPK, he won a big battle against the House over the new KUHP. The House and Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly were on the verge of passing the draft code when he called for its halt in the eleventh hour. He killed the bill in response to the protests.
When the going got rough, he knew he could rely on public support. This could become a pattern if he continuously fights with the House.
These two battles took place last month as the House was ending its five-year sitting. There was no sense for Jokowi to waste his political capital fighting House members with nothing-to-lose attitudes. Better reserve your energy for the big battles still to come.
With the new batch of House members in place, and with Jokowi starting his second term with a new Cabinet, the power relations between the executive and legislative branches will change.
Jokowi is more powerful than in 2014, but the House seems bolder in opposing or defying him. But never underestimate the former furniture salesman. Not only did he survive the last five years, he also got himself reelected. That should tell you something.