Updated at 9:40 a.m. EDT, 18 January 2018
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo appointed a top official of Indonesia’s second largest political party and retired military leaders to his cabinet Wednesday, a shake-up that analysts see as a move to strengthen support ahead of coming elections, including presidential polls next year.
It was the third time Jokowi reshuffled his cabinet since he took office in October 2014, and the first time since July 2016, when the Golkar party left the opposition bloc and joined a ruling alliance led by his Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).
On Wednesday, Jokowi appointed Golkar Secretary-General Idrus Marham, 55, to replace Social Affairs Minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa, 52. Khofifah resigned so she could contest the June 2018 gubernatorial election in East Java province, which will be among regional polls taking place across Indonesia this year.
“This is a technical reshuffle, besides it is a necessity. However, the nomination of Idrus is quite surprising because the allocation fell to Golkar again, not to the Islamic-based National Awakening Party (PKB) even though there are many candidates in PKB and NU (Nahdlatul Ulama) who are capable of handling social issues,” Tobias Basuki, a researcher with the Jakarta-based Center For Strategic and International Studies, told BenarNews.
NU, Indonesia’s largest moderate Muslim organization, is the National Awakening Party’s main supporter.
Jokowi also appointed retired Indonesian National Armed Force (TNI) chief Moeldoko, 60, to replace Teten Masduki, as his chief of staff (KSP).
In addition, Jowoki swore in Air Marshal Yuyu Sutisna, 55, as Air Force Chief of Staff. Yuyu replaces Chief Air Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto who was appointed in December as chief of the armed forces following the early retirement of Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo.
Agum Gumelar, 72, another retired military leader, was sworn in as a member of the Presidential Advisory Committee. He fills a position that has been open since Hasyim Muzadi, a former NU chairman, died in March 2017.
Teten, 54, a former activist with Indonesia Corruption Watch, a local NGO, and a key member of his campaign team in 2014, will have a new role.
“Pak Teten now will always be near me, as the special staff coordinator. Every day he has to be near me,” Jokowi told journalists after the swearing-in of Idrus and Moeldoko.
Honeymoon with Golkar
Idrus is the second Golkar member to hold ministerial positions in Jokowi’s administration, joining Industry Minister Airlangga Hartarto, who was appointed in July 2016.
In the 2014 election, Golkar backed the losing presidential candidate, Prabowo Subianto. Two years later, the party gave its support to Jokowi, when it switched to the ruling coalition.
“This reshuffle is a honeymoon moment for Jokowi and Golkar and adds to Jokowi’s strategy of increasing Golkar’s bargaining position against the PDI-P,” Syamsuddin Haris, a political observer from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), told BenarNews.
Another political analyst, Burhanudin Muhtadi, said the latest reshuffle of Jokowi’s cabinet represented a victory for Golkar and the president.
“Since Golkar entered the cabinet, political stability has proven to be improving and maintained,” he told BenarNews.
Unlike, PDI-P, which has not revealed who it will endorse in 2019, Golkar has expressed support for Jokowi.
Analysts said the addition of two retired generals to Jokowi’s administration is a tactic to get military support for the 2019 presidential election.
The opposition coalition’s main party, Gerakan Indonesia Raya (Gerindra), endorsed Prabowo Subianto, a former army general, for president.
Tobias Basuki expects that Moeldoko will be supporting Jokowi in 2019.
“The public has the perception that TNI still has an important role in maintaining stability, especially toward the 2018 regional elections and the 2019 presidential election,” Tobias said.
Right activists, however, questioned Moeldoko’s appointment.
“We are concerned about the agenda of dealing with past human rights violations that had been initiated by KSP. In the hands of Moeldoko, will the human rights violation problem be an important priority?” said Hendardi, chairman of the Setara Institute, a Jakarta-based human rights group.
Although Moeldoko is not directly linked to past rights violations, Hendardi said, his military background casts doubt on his independence in addressing the problem.
Meanwhile, Leonard Simanjuntak, executive director of Greenpeace Indonesia, expressed doubt that a military background was well suited for the job of the president’s chief of staff. That person should have a background focusing on socio-economic development issues, he said.
“We are concerned that this reshuffle gives a false signal that a military person is more capable than a civilian person, and we believe that even if Teten had to be replaced, there are more than enough capable civilian candidates,” Leonard told BenarNews.
“We are quite concerned that Mr. Moeldoko’s military background is generally closer to the corporate community, while the role of KSP is crucial to channel the voice of the people who become victims to the president,” he said.