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Jakarta Post

Political rhapsody: Jokowi will not let Prabowo go

  • Kornelius Purba

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, October 24, 2019   /   09:15 am
Political rhapsody: Jokowi will not let Prabowo go Indonesian Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto gestures towards journalists as President Joko Widodo (unseen) unveils his new cabinet on the steps of the Merdeka Palace in Jakarta on October 23, 2019. - Indonesia's Joko Widodo on October 23 tapped his election arch-rival -- a former general with a chequered rights record -- to be defence minister, as his new cabinet members, decked out in traditional batik shirts, were introduced on the steps of the presidential palace. (AFP/Adek Berry)

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? The answer to the latter from "Bohemian Rhapsody" is, of course, no. On Oct. 23, Prabowo Subianto officially became President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s subordinate for the next five years. Titiek Soeharto’s former husband was accompanied by his only son, Didit Prabowo, during the Cabinet’s swearing-in ceremony on Wednesday.

Will Prabowo become duri dalam daging (a thorn in the side) of Jokowi’s new government? Or will, as many doubt, the former general be a proverbial “Ronaldo” or “Messi” to kick the Cabinet forward? Some suspect the President’s choice for the Defense Ministry was one of mere political expediency. But Jokowi may see something in Prabowo that others do not.

Prabowo has pledged loyalty to his unexpected boss in his efforts to hasten the country’s development, especially in his specialty: military affairs. I believe the 68-year-old politician has good intentions and the political will to serve his country. I believe he will put aside his political ambition. The state is now calling upon the former general to prove his capability and ability to carry out the President’s will. He will certainly face temptation and opposition from his own Gerindra Party and supporters, but he will also have a perfect occasion to restore his tarnished reputation.

"I don’t think I need to announce his duties because he knows [them] better than I do,” the President said when introducing Prabowo to journalists on Wednesday.

The President reportedly played songs by rock band Queen (including his favorite, "Bohemian Rhapsody"), as well as by Metallica, as he invited Public Works and Housing Minister Basuki Hadimuljono for lunch at Merdeka Palace on Tuesday. The President gave Basuki special treatment, as he was behind the government’s successful infrastructure development over the last five years. Jokowi has appointed Basuki for second term, lasting until 2024.

As a Javanese, Jokowi’s song choices may carry significant meaning. The luncheon took place one day after his political archrival agreed to humble himself “for the sake of the country”. You can choose which of Freddy Mercury’s lyrics is most fitting for Prabowo’s appointment. At a glance they all sound negative, but if you listen to the music, you could very well change your mind.

Bismillah! We will not let you go/

So you think you can stop me and spit in my eye/

So you think you can love me and leave me to die/

The main problem for ordinary Indonesians — even for Jokowi’s die-hard “Jokowers” — is “the economy, stupid!” If you want to understand the severity of Indonesia’s economic situation, you needn’t go to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Asian Development Bank or to top economics professors. Just talk to small shop owners, fish and vegetable vendors at traditional markets or people who have lost their jobs because the factories where they worked could not compete against imports from China. We are in a dire economic situation.

The President swore in his 38-member Cabinet at the State Palace, including Prabowo, and warned them he would not hesitate to fire them if he was not satisfied with their performance. Prabowo is expected to be able to realize his campaign promise (at least partially, as he is not president) that he would not let neighboring countries ridicule Indonesia because of a lack of military power. Let’s look at the positives of his appointment.

Can you imagine the reactions of the 68,650,239 Indonesians who voted for Prabowo and his running mate Sandiaga Uno in April’s presidential election as the former general officially became the defense minister of his archrival, President Jokowi? Many of Prabowo’s supporters ended up in jail or lost their lives in anti-Jokowi protests. Many just wanted to demonstrate their unconditional loyalty to their idol and use any possible way to express their rejection of Prabowo’s loss in April. Millions of them will feel betrayed by Prabowo’s acceptance of the Cabinet seat.

Prabowo’s appointment also has elicited mixed reactions among the 85,607,362 Indonesians who supported Jokowi for his second term. Many are angry and some have accused Jokowi of betraying their trust and support.

The senior politician of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), Tifatul Sembiring, teased Prabowo in pantun (Malay poetry) in a series of tweets. His message appeared alongside a picture of a well-dressed cat. Another party executive openly expressed resentment about the party’s support of Prabowo:

Kusangka dia singa padang pasir/ (I thought he was a desert lion)

Ternyata cuma kucing rumahan/ (Evidently he’s just a house cat)

There will be problems with the maintenance of checks and balances. PKS, the National Mandate Party (PAN) and the Democratic Party are not a strong opposition to government, but we shouldn’t forget that Jokowi’s biggest threats will come from his own camp.

This may be one of the reasons Jokowi was approached for Cabinet seats. But it would be a mistake to overlook Prabowo’s statesmanship. His achievements in the Cabinet will evince his love for his country — equal to Jokowi’s. The two men will work together for the good of all Indonesians.