As Jokowi takes power, the fight to gain wider support continues

OCTOBER 19 — Indonesia is set to welcome its new leader tomorrow with lively street parades, an outdoor public address and rock concerts, at which the metal head president-elect Joko Widodo is expected to jam along.

The celebration was originally planned by volunteers to show massive public support for the new president Jokowi after political developments in the past few weeks raised concerns that his inauguration might be thwarted by a hostile parliament.

But this fear proved to be unfounded and come tomorrow, Jokowi will be sworn in, followed by a daylong event that will also be attended by some foreign leaders.

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to take part in the celebration which involves some 25,000 security officers. Jakarta’s main avenues Sudirman and Thamrin roads will be cordoned off and many office buildings in the area will close for the day.

After attending the swearing-in ceremony at the People’s Consultative Assembly building, outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and First Lady Ani Yudhoyono will personally welcome Jokowi and his deputy Jusuf Kalla at the State Palace to introduce him to the staff, before they vacate the place.

President elect Joko Widodo (right) and defeated presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto (left) walk together for a meeting at Prabowo’s compound in Jakarta on October 17, 2014 ahead of Widodo’s official October 20 inauguration. — AFP pic
President elect Joko Widodo (right) and defeated presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto (left) walk together for a meeting at Prabowo’s compound in Jakarta on October 17, 2014 ahead of Widodo’s official October 20 inauguration. — AFP pic

It is a gracious gesture expected from the image-conscious Yudhoyono, but it also marks a courteous power-transfer tradition in democratic Indonesia.

This will be unlike Yudhoyono’s own inauguration in 2004 when his predecessor Megawati Sukarnoputri, sore from losing to her former Cabinet minister, left the palace quietly after her leadership expired — never to be seen in the same room with him again for many years after.

In fact, magnanimity seems to describe what Jokowi has been doing the past few days. After witnessing his Great Indonesia Coalition (KIH) getting pummeled by opposition Red-White Coalition (KMP) in Parliament, Jokowi has been sending the message that he is above politics by reconciling with his political rivals this week.

For the first time since the election, he visited nemesis Prabowo Subianto at the latter’s late father’s home on Friday. Many Indonesians heaved a sigh of relief and were even moved by the sight of Prabowo military saluting Jokowi, who bowed in response. The two hugged and expressed warm words for each other during the visit, which coincided with Prabowo’s 63rd birthday.

Though this is no indication that Prabowo and his coalition of parties would soften up on Jokowi’s administration, the friendly gesture is what has been missing in the imperious way Megawati, whose Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle leads the Jokowi coalition, conducts politics.

Her reluctance to communicate with Yudhoyono or her other rivals, particularly in the context of this year’s election, has caused the Great Indonesia Coalition to lose political battles they could have won had they been more accommodating.

“She is rigid and inflexible in negotiation and diplomacy, and the party is largely uncoordinated because no one dares to take an initiative unless it is approved by her,” a high-level source in Jokowi’s coalition told me.

“In contrast, the KMP has been working systematically and is highly co-ordinated,” the source added.

Jokowi needs as much support as he can. With Prabowo’s coalition controlling 61 per cent of the 560 seat in Parliament, it will be tough for his administration to pass the budget or any legislation. The opposition would also likely obstruct the government’s initiatives.

The Jokowi camp is counting on Golkar and the United Development Party (PPP) to jump ship and join them to move Jokowi out of a vulnerable position.

“We need to move fast to prevent this from happening. We need to boost our number in Parliament,” my source said.

Early this week the president-elect met with Aburizal Bakrie, chairman of Golkar, which is the second largest party in Parliament. Though referring to Jokowi as his “best friend”, Aburizal said during the press briefing that Golkar would continue its role in keeping the government in check in the Red-White coalition.

But my source inside Golkar said there are movements within the party to overthrow him. The Law on Political Parties stipulates that a political party must have a change of leadership every five years, and this means Golkar should have a new leader by October 8. But Bakrie has insisted that an election would take place next year or in November at the earliest.

My source said some senior party cadres would form a presidium to begin the national congress next week that will elect a new chairman and shift the party’s support to Jokowi.

The Muslim-based PPP has done the same to topple its leader. On Thursday it held a national congress to elect new chairman Romahumuziy, replacing Suryadharma Ali, who supported Prabowo’s candidacy early this year despite his party’s objection.

With Golkar and PPP joining the Jokowi camp, the balance of power in Parliament will reverse: 60 per cent controlled by the Jokowi camp and 40 per cent by the Prabowo coalition. But this also means he will have to accommodate these parties in his Cabinet, a fact that might not go down easily with his more critical supporters who expect Jokowi to give more Cabinet posts to non-partisan people.

Jokowi has little choice, however. A slowing down economy and a subsidy-heavy budget set by Yudhoyono has left him with little fiscal room to implement his programmes. He will have to raise fuel prices early in his administration, a move that will meet with fierce challenge by his opposition.

Anyone in this unenviable position needs as many friends as he can have.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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