The Jakarta Post
Adopting a largely humble, naive and indeed comical persona, President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo has been largely perceived by the political and economic elites as a leader who can easily be swayed by their tunes and tricks.
A leader whom they thought posed no threat to any of their sinister plots and dubious schemes.
But recent events have revealed that as they attempted to fool him, they fell deeper into his trap.
A House of Representatives' ethics council hearing on alleged misconduct by House Speaker Setya Novanto, a powerful Golkar Party patron with a career of more than 16 years in politics, may indicate how Jokowi unleashes his fury against Setya, or other members of the elite, who are thought to be obstructing the President's interests, according to several legislators.
With Jokowi's blessing, Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Sudirman Said filed a report with the ethics council on Nov. 16 against Setya for trying to broker a deal with an executive of PT Freeport Indonesia, a subsidiary of US mining giant Freeport-McMoRan.
If found guilty, Setya may be stripped of his position or even his House membership.
While the report has attracted massive publicity, Jokowi seems to have enjoyed the spectacle as he quipped about how Setya had become a trending topic on social media with people calling him 'papa minta saham' (papa wants company shares).
National Police chief Gen. Badrodin Haiti, who is directly under Jokowi, has joined the hunt, saying that regardless of the outcome of the ethics council, the police see the possibility of charging Setya based on the evidence provided by Sudirman.
The evidence includes a copy of recorded conversation, dated June 8, of Setya and others purportedly attempting to broker the Freeport deal.
Jokowi received this evidence in July, and told his staff that he would make it public 'when the time had come'.
While the reasons that encouraged Jokowi to approve Sudirman's report remain sketchy, several legislators have shed some light.
What has ignited Jokowi's fury and the subsequent retribution, according to the legislators, was Setya's alleged role in delaying the passing of the 2016 state budget days from schedule.
The budget was eventually passed on Oct. 30, but on the condition that Jokowi froze a disbursement of Rp 40.42 trillion (US$2.96 billion) in capital injections (PMN) for state firms to be able to develop the badly needed public and business infrastructure.
Setya and other deputy speakers were hailed by many for helping resolve the deadlock in the passing of the budget. Jokowi, however, has been wary about their roles, particularly when the budget fiasco turned into political pressure to have State Owned Enterprises Minister Rini Soemarno ousted in exchange for the PMN to be approved in the upcoming budget revision slated for February, according to the legislators.
The politicians seem to have picked the wrong fight. Unlike other Cabinet members, Rini has an exceptional place in Jokowi's circle of few trusted individuals.
It is a relationship forged by history after she closely fought by Jokowi's side to help him clinch the presidency last year.
Rini has not only advised and helped finance Jokowi, but also dealt with his choice of suits and ties. For her unrivaled service, Jokowi has repeatedly shielded her even from the demands of his own party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), to have Rini replaced following a rift with the party's chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri.
Megawati and Rini used to be close friends until the former severed the relationship earlier this year. However, ties between the two have recently started to form again, according to several politicians.
As pressure mounts from politicians, conspiring with a powerful oil and fuel import tycoon, to have Rini removed, Jokowi has once again come to her defense.
The conspiring group has demanded Rini's ouster as their interests in state firms have been compromised and she has reportedly favored a certain faction in Golkar that will rival Setya in the upcoming race to succeed Aburizal Bakrie as the party's chairman.
Sudirman's report to the ethics council has not only undermined the conspiracy, but has also highlighted intense rivalries between factions in the Cabinet.
The report includes a transcript of a recorded conversation purportedly between Setya, politically connected oil and fuel import kingpin Muhammad Reza Chalid and Freeport Indonesia president director Maroef Sjamsoeddin, a former National Intelligence Agency (BIN) deputy chairman and a friend of Vice President Jusuf Kalla.
The report also suggested Setya had claimed he had the approval of Jokowi and Kalla to secure shares and projects from Freeport in exchange for helping the firm extend its contract and continue operating its gold mine, one of the world's largest, in Papua.
According to the report, Setya and Reza repeatedly mentioned Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Pandjaitan, Jokowi's long-time business partner, as having a role in making the deal successful.
The report has annoyed Luhut, a friend of Setya and Reza. Although Sudirman has repeatedly claimed the President sanctioned his actions, Luhut has insisted otherwise and accused him of insubordination.
Sudirman, however, refused to hit back at Luhut, despite Kalla's support. Kalla insisted that the President had endorsed the report to the ethics council and that Luhut should accept the decision.
Since the forming of the Cabinet a year ago, analysts and politicians have hinted at a rivalry in the Presidential Palace hinging largely on Kalla and Luhut, although the two senior Golkar politicians have publicly tried to appear on cordial terms.
Luhut is known to have teamed up with Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Rizal Ramli, who secured his job in August based on Luhut's recommendation. Rizal has since traded barbs with Kalla and Sudirman on almost every issue.
Kalla has also received backing from the PDI-P when it comes to the rivalry against Luhut because Megawati still holds a grudge against the former general due to an incident in 2002.
But like Rini, Luhut is also powerful and has the ear of the President.
In recent months, Luhut's authority and scope of work have expanded. The retired general is now leading the drafting of a tax amnesty bill, which will be submitted to the House later this year.
Luhut also has a role in the government's negotiations on the extension of Freeport's contract and in the operation of the gas-rich Masela Block, owned by Japan's Inpex.
In foreign affairs, Luhut has been credited with reviving diplomatic, defense and intelligence ties between Indonesia and Australia.
While it might appear that cracks in the Cabinet have undermined Jokowi's credibility, the President has thus far been able to juggle the balance of power among the competing factions despite some drawbacks.
Several ministers have complained that the rivalry has started to undermine the passing of many crucial policies such as the tax amnesty and several foreign affairs issues.
However, such rivalries may at some point have been deliberately instigated and even enjoyed by Jokowi. After all, the history of great world leaders has often pointed to many stories of bickering among individuals in their trusted circle.
The author is managing editor of The Jakarta Post.
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