Confirming he will carry out a limited Cabinet reshuffle after the annual post-Ramadan holidays, President Joko Widodo has offered a tantalizing clue to the most intriguing question of all: Will Indonesia see a very different president in his second term?
“In five years’ time I will have no more burden. I can’t be re-elected again, so whatever I do will be for the benefit of the country,” he said recently in what may have been a sign of a new resolve, free of the political restraints that have marked his policies so far.
Announcing the official result ahead of tomorrow’s deadline to take the steam out of threatened protests over alleged voter fraud, the National Election Commission has confirmed Widodo won the April 17 election by 55.5% to 44.5%.
The 11% gap, or more than 15 million votes, gives the government justification for taking firm action against Islamic hardliners and other opposition groups seeking to turn the election outcome into a people’s power uprising.
Security forces have gone to their highest alert status, with paramilitary police patrolling downtown Jakarta streets and Army Strategic Reserve (Kostrad) troops conducting rappelling exercises in Merdeka Square in the heart of the city.
The leaderships of the country’s two largest mass Muslim organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, have called on their more than 100 million members to stay away from the protests called by losing ex-soldier candidate Prabowo Subianto.
Anxious to put the election behind him, the president has already turned to business as usual, offering as a distraction his idea of moving the capital to what he now thinks is the best alternative – a site close to the Central Kalimantan province capital of Palangkaraya.
Widodo’s predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, never had it in him to change in his second term. In fact, by discarding previous vice president Jusuf Kalla, the one man who had cajoled him into making tough decisions, he simply coasted along on a commodity boom some thought would never end.
Widodo doesn’t have that luxury. Vice President Ma’ruf Amin is not going to be of any help on anything, let alone economic issues, and with growth stagnating on five percent he is under pressure from reformists to change the nationalist course he inherited from Yudhoyono.
Economists like Australian Hal Hill aren’t hopeful, predicting the new administration will be “pragmatic and cautious,” apart perhaps from taking a few bold policy steps at the outset, as Widodo did with fuel prices after his hard-fought victory in 2014.
Nor are many Indonesian reformists, including former ministers and other senior officials who believe Widodo will find it difficult to separate himself from the five or six political parties making up his ruling coalition and, more importantly, the vested interests that come with them.
What analysts do agree on is that without a significant revamp of the presidential office, poor coordination in policy implementation and an underperforming Cabinet will continue to weigh heavily on the new government’s effectiveness.
Widodo’s frustration with a sluggish, overweight bureaucracy is often palpable. “The slimmer our organization, the faster we can run, the more flexible we can be with policies,” he told regional leaders last week, pledging to axe agencies that did not contribute to growth.
“Five years ago investors came in droves, but only a few projects were hatched because we couldn’t help them execute,” he went on. “I’m so annoyed I couldn’t solve a problem (of bureaucratic red tape) that is so obvious.”
Figuring out what the Cabinet changes will be is a fool’s exercise with an enigmatic leader who likes to play things so close to his chest, but presidential spokesman Johan Budi has indicated it will involve mostly those ministers under a corruption cloud.
Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Saifuddin, Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita and Youth and Sports Minister Imam Nahrawi are all implicated in cases being investigated by the Anti-Corruption Commission (KPK) — and others may be expected to follow.
Although it might head off the inevitable horse-trading among the ruling coalition partners, wholesale changes would be surprising when the current Cabinet has only a few months to go before the president chooses his new line-up in October.
Investment Coordinating Board chairman Thomas Lembong believes Widodo’s second Cabinet will be “dramatically more effective,” saying the president loves surprises and predicts that some of his new ministers may force people to do a double take.
He did that with maverick Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti, a rags-to-riches entrepreneur, who might have stood on a few toes, but has proved to be a revelation in the way she put a stop to the wholesale poaching of the nation’s maritime resources.
Ministers also recall how Widodo stunned everyone in mid-2016 by persuading World Bank deputy managing director Sri Mulyani Indrawati to return to the country which had shunned her over the Bank Century bailout debacle to take over as finance minister.
Lembong calls the upcoming reshuffle “phase one,” but he says the bigger changes in October will be aimed at a “meaningful improvement in the professionalism of the Cabinet.” As he put it: “It is not because he (Widodo) wants to, but because we will be forced to do it.”
“Without a more professional Cabinet, the currency will tank and the recovery will go into a hard slow down,” he said, noting that from his experience the ability of ministers has little to do with whether they are technocrats or members of political parties.
Reformists will also want to see Widodo scale back the dominant role now being played by state-owned enterprises (SOEs), crowding out private sector interests in a broad range of sectors and even forcing some firms to seek business opportunities offshore.
While Widodo’s reliance on SOEs was understandable at the start of his presidency to kick start major infrastructure projects, they have now reached a level of dominance in everything from infrastructure to banking and oil and gas that they control assets equivalent to more than 50% of GDP.
On the other side of the coin, business analysts say if SOEs do begin to develop a more profit-orientated and efficient management, which they have not been known for up to now, foreign investors might actually be tempted to partner with them on projects — something undreamed of until now.