All eyes on Jokowi’s Cabinet

JAKARTA, Oct 26 — Six days have passed since the inauguration of Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Vice President Jusuf Kalla, and the historical massive public celebration that followed.

Since then, all eyes have been riveted on the bustle that revolved around the announcement of the new Cabinet, “Is it going to happen today or is Jokowi going to delay again?”

On Wednesday night, it seemed like it was going to happen. Journalists were bussed by the presidential palace media office to a container terminal at Tanjung Priok Seaport in North Jakarta, where the president would make the announcement and which was already set up, complete with a presidential security detail.

But he didn’t turn up at 7pm as scheduled, and half an hour later the set-up was dismantled.

The episode was criticised for being a waste of money, with the preparation costing the government Rp500 million (RM135,843). While the journalists were waiting for the announcement, however, Jokowi was meeting with his prospective aides in the palace.

Jokowi shouts ‘Merdeka’ during his inauguration at the House of Representative building in Jakarta on Monday. — Picture by Reuters
Jokowi shouts ‘Merdeka’ during his inauguration at the House of Representative building in Jakarta on Monday. — Picture by Reuters

Perhaps it was a good thing that it did not happen. While making the announcement at the port would be symbolic of Jokowi’s ambition to turn Indonesia into a maritime power, it would have been a tad over the top, especially after he and Kalla made a similar appearance at another seaport following the declaration of his victory by the Election Committee three months ago.

A dramatic gesture is the least that Indonesia needs right now. Despite Jokowi’s penchant for impromptu walkabouts to connect with everyday people, what the country needs is a no-nonsense leader who governs effectively. A more fitting signal for this is an announcement of the Cabinet at the president’s own office.

The delay to the announcement is both good and bad. It is good because it shows that he takes a lot into consideration before making a decision. It shows that he is not a rash politician, who is eager to please the public. It also signals that he is standing up against the interest of political parties that support him, particularly his own Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP).

A key factor to this is his move to involve the Anti-Corruption Commission (KPK) and the Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (PPATK) to assess 43 short-listed candidates to fill 33 ministerial posts. The move gives substance to his promise of a government free of corruption, and strengthens his case against unsuitable candidates proposed by political parties.

Of the 43 candidates, eight have been removed after KPK marked them as having been or likely to be implicated in corruption cases. Media reports said most of the eight that emerged were linked to political parties, including the PDIP.

Jokowi clearly does not want a repeat of predecessor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Cabinet, in which three ministers were convicted or became suspects in corruption cases.

However, the delay carries the risk of making him look indecisive, a public image problem caused by a tendency of speaking too soon. When Jokowi said the announcement would happen that day or the next, and it didn’t, it led to a host of speculations.

One of the rumours is that the delay was caused by his inability to free himself from the control of PDIP’s matriarch, Megawati Sukarnoputri, leading to concerns of horse-trading over Cabinet positions.

On Thursday Jokowi met with Megawati at her residence, a fact that further fueled the speculation that he was too accommodating to her needs. By yesterday, a list of the Cabinet members going around included Megawati’s daughter and heir to the throne, Puan Maharani, as the coordinating minister in charge of people’s welfare.

Businessmen and economists have warned that further delays in announcing the Cabinet would badly affect the economy, triggering speculations and swaying investors’ perception of the government.

The latest news is that the announcement will finally happen today (Sunday, October 26), though there’s no guarantee it will.

More important than when, however, is who will be in it. Because a solid Cabinet whose members are competent and have integrity will be the first indicator of what kind of government Jokowi will lead.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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