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"Jokowi’s Third Cabinet Reshuffle to Bring Closer Alliance with Golkar and the Military" by Charlotte Setijadi

2018/4, 19 January 2018

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s third cabinet reshuffle was finally announced on Wednesday 17 January 2018.

Long-awaited and a subject of speculation since the first half of last year, the reshuffle is much smaller in scale than many had expected, with only four changes in the president’s team. However, while the changes seem minimal, the choice of new personnel is significant and highly strategic.

Former Golkar party Secretary General Idrus Marham has been appointed as the new Social Affairs Minister following Khofifah Indar Parawansa’s decision to run as a gubernatorial candidate in the upcoming East Java election. Former commander of the armed forces retired General Moeldoko has replaced anti-corruption campaigner Teten Masduki as the president’s Chief of Staff, and former Defense Minister under the Wahid presidency retired General Agum Gumelar has been brought in as part of Jokowi’s core advisory team. In addition, Air Marshall Yuyu Sutisna has been appointed as the new Air Force Chief of Staff.

The biggest surprise was Marham’s appointment as Social Affairs Minister. Marham had a close relationship with disgraced former leader Setya Novanto, and he was one of new party leader Airlangga Hartarto’s strongest rivals for the Golkar Chair position following Novanto’s departure. Marham’s surprise appointment into the cabinet has fueled speculations of a possible internal deal between Jokowi, Hartarto, and Marham, whereby Marham would give his support for Jokowi-backed Hartarto in his bid to become Chair in exchange for a cabinet post. Jokowi also broke his own convention of not having party heads as cabinet ministers by keeping Hartarto, the new Chairman of Golkar, as Minister of Industry.  Regardless of whether or not a deal was struck, the strategic move of including both Marham and Hartarto in the cabinet would help maintain stability within Golkar as well as ensuring Golkar’s continued support towards Jokowi.

The appointment of the two former army generals as Chief of Staff and member of the president’s advisory team also signals Jokowi’s intent to have more influence among the senior ranks of the military. Coming from a civilian background and outside of the established political elite, Jokowi’s popularity with the military has been largely overshadowed by the enigmatic former military commander retired General Gatot Nurmantyo who many argue has his own political ambitions. It is notable that new Chief of Staff Moeldoko was said to be rivals with Nurmantyo during their time in the army high command.  Together with Air Force head Sutisno who is loyal to newly-appointed military commander and strong Jokowi supporter Air Marshall Hadi Tjahjono, the new military men in the president’s inner circle can help the president build closer ties with the military.

Jokowi’s decision not to pursue a more wide-ranging reshuffle suggests he feels more confident on the back of rising poll numbers recently, which show around a 30-percentage point lead over his likely 2019 rival Prabowo. The third cabinet reshuffle is all about consolidating power with Golkar and the military ahead of the 2019 election, and this is a move that should service him well.

Charlotte Setijadi is Visiting Fellow in the Indonesia Studies Programme, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

The facts and views expressed are solely that of the author/authors and do not necessarily reflect that of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.  No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission.