Dubbed by many as “Little Soeharto” or as the emblematic “Javanese King” for his employment of ingenious but concealed ploys to have his friends and rivals succumb to his reign, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has maneuvered to clip the influence of dissenting camps in his circle of power.
Aside from fortifying the economic team and accommodating new party members of the ruling coalition, Wednesday’s Cabinet shake-up affecting 13 posts has particularly purged members of the dominating camps whose rivalries have largely led to public controversies.
There are four competing camps in Jokowi’s corridors of power. They are led by Vice President Jusuf Kalla, by Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Luhut Pandjaitan, previously the political, legal and security affairs minister, by State-Owned Enterprises Minister Rini Soemarno and by Indonesia Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri.
Since early this year, the pendulum of influence has swung heavily toward Luhut, leaving others profoundly weakened. Luhut has had both ears of the President, using them to secure the Tax Amnesty Law and to lobby for the highly decorated but junior cop, Tito Karnavian, to lead the National Police.
Luhut, who had been Jokowi’s business partner since early 2000, is also credited with convincing the Golkar Party — the second biggest after the PDI-P — to join the ruling coalition camp. Luhut’s maneuvers have ensured stability in the House of Representatives, the Indonesian Military (TNI) and the National Police.
Luhut has also dealt with economic issues, talking about the property business and problems in the government’s recent economic reform packages as Jokowi sidelined Kalla and reduced his roles in dealing with strategic policies.
Given the achievements and influence, many politicians and journalists had labeled Luhut a “prime minister”, the “second most influential Cabinet member after the President” and “the real Vice President”.
However, those labels have likely made Jokowi uncomfortable. Probably, the more powerful Luhut became, the more capital he had to dictate to Jokowi to make him bow to his demands. Javanese leadership has a low toleration for this kind of person.
Last year’s full-fledged “proxy war” between Luhut and Kalla in which the latter’s loyalist, then energy and mineral resources minister Sudirman Said, engaged in an irreconcilable public tussle with Luhut and his supporter, then coordinating maritime affairs minister Rizal Ramli, may have also cast fear over Jokowi, particularly when Rizal launched a string of verbal attacks at the Vice President and no one could stem the tirade.
The infighting has not only held back Jokowi’s reforms in the energy and mining sectors, but it has also spooked investors, leading to several sudden changes in regulations and commitments.
Disregarding Luhut’s role and loyalty in keeping Jokowi politically protected, the President assigned him to the less prestigious job of leading the Office of the Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister.
Perhaps to have Luhut’s influence sapped, Jokowi assigned former Indonesia Military (TNI) commander Gen. (ret.) Wiranto as Luhut’s successor. Wiranto, who is barred from entering the US and Timor Leste for alleged human rights abuses, was Luhut’s senior in the military.
Aside from dismissing Sudirman and Rizal, Jokowi also fired two ministers and one official deemed close to the Vice President: administrative and bureaucratic reform minister Yuddy Chrisnandi, culture and education minister Anies Baswedan and Investment Coordination Board (BKPM) chairman Franky Sibarani.
Anies, a popular figure among the grassroots and the middle class, was of particular interest to Jokowi for inclusion on the chopping block as the education expert has been accused of capitalizing on his position to gain leverage for a vice presidential bid in 2019.
As a showdown demonstrating the President’s refusal to succumb to PDI-P dictation, Jokowi gave one Cabinet post to Golkar and two posts to the National Mandate Party (PAN) as new members of the ruling coalition, which could be Jokowi hedging his bets in case the PDI-P pulls its support.
The coalition currently wields enormous power, having secured 69 percent of seats in the House of Representatives — up from 40 percent a year ago.
Blooming with optimism, Jokowi rejected demands from the PDI-P to have Minister Rini ousted from the Cabinet because of her strained relations with Megawati. The row has led the House to deny Rini access to discuss her ministry’s budget and approval for the strategic corporate actions of state firms.
Jokowi also turned down Megawati’s demand to have her “best friend” deputy National Police chief Comr. Gen. Budi Gunawan assigned to lead the National Intelligence Agency (BIN) in exchange for the party’s support for passing the Tax Amnesty Law and the appointment of police chief Tito.
Many may have perceived Rini as the winner in the recent reshuffle as she retained her job, but the appointment of World Bank managing director and former finance minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati as finance minister may be intended to keep Rini in check.
Relations between Sri Mulyani and Rini — both have a penchant for dominating — may not be rosy and the authority to manage state firms, for example, asset sales, supervision and performance targets, apparently falls on the Finance Ministry.
With the reshuffle largely hinged on the intention to balance the political power and to help rid the government of popular candidates who could challenge Jokowi’s reelection bid in 2019 from inside, the new Cabinet landscape has now left no one wielding enormous influence.
For Jokowi, the Cabinet is best managed by either the most influential person, who is of course himself, or the fifth-most, leaving nothing in between: not the second, the third, or the fourth-most.