The Jakarta Post
Credit is due to President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo, who has turned the tables to become the master of his own game in less than a year after taking office.
Having not led a political party nor become a scion of any political dynasty, the former Jakarta governor has successfully built his own political clout that has often sung a different tune from that of the ruling party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).
But celebrating the recent endorsement of the National Mandate Party (PAN) for the government would be premature.
While refusing to firmly state that it is leaving the Red-and-White Coalition, the opposition caucus, PAN also refuses to say that they are a part of the Great Indonesia Coalition, the pro-government group led by PDI-P.
PAN chairman Zulkifli Hasan, also the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) Speaker, has reiterated that his party's allegiance is with the government, a new position that is also different from the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party has claimed that it will be neutral from coalitions and refuses to be part of the government.
A clearer explanation for PAN's decision may have come from an awkward moment during Independence Day celebrations last month.
After Jokowi delivered the state address, the House of Representatives' leadership, including Zulkifli, escorted Jokowi and Vice President Jusuf Kalla to sign an inscription marking the start of House renovations, estimated to cost Rp 2.7 trillion (US$188.9 million).
The inscription was avoided by Jokowi and Kalla because the government had previously rejected the multiyear project due to the economic slowdown.
The opposition is known for its cunning maneuvers in conquering leadership posts in the House and the Assembly.
But its power seems to have weakened in the past few months because of the prolonged infighting of the group's coordinator, the Golkar Party, which is still facing leadership dualism and legal battles in the Supreme Court.
Another reason is that all political parties are preparing resources and manpower to win the regional elections (Pilkada) in December. This is harder for opposition parties with limited access to government policies along with its budgeting process.
In the previous administration, with former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono welcoming almost all political parties into his coalition, all political parties had access to the budgeting process.
Several projects such as the Hambalang sports complex and budgeting at the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry caused several lawmakers to go to jail for inflating prices and doctoring procurement projects.
In the ongoing state budget deliberation process for 2016, the flexibility of the political parties is limited.
Besides rejecting the renovation project, the government has also turned down the constituency fund proposal from the House, in which lawmakers, despite lacking such rights in the Constitution, had tried to legalize direct development fund transfers from lawmakers to their respective regions.
This is why PAN's recent gesture doesn't deserve a banquet in the palace. Their move could mark a shifting strategy among political parties.
Playing opponent is no longer beneficial for the parties, because under the country's presidential system, decision-making should be made with approval of both the House and the executive branch. The parties can only hope to influence government policies by becoming one of the pro-government parties.
With Zulkifli's offer to back the government, he may seek support from the government for greater political party funding and other government policies.
His strategic legislative position makes his influence extend beyond his party, and also represents the weakening of the opposition.
Jokowi is well aware that the most significant political tumults in his administration in the past few months have come from groups that have become part of his administration, reflected in the controversial appointment of Comr. Gen. Budi Gunawan as the single National Police chief candidate this year, to the recent dismissal of detective chief Comr. Gen. Budi Waseso.
Inviting a political party that has declared its allegiance to his administration, instead of his pro-government coalition, may smooth the President's relationship with the legislative body, but it may also exacerbate tensions within his inner circle, as PAN may become Jokowi's ally in making different decisions from his ruling coalition or from VP Kalla.
Those who will benefit from the conflicts are none other than those in the opposition caucus. Whether PAN becomes a true ally or a Trojan horse is not only in the hands of Jokowi to decide, but also in the hands of his supporting allies.
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