Jokowi and the art of the reshuf­fle

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - ROGER MITTON roger­mit­ton@gmail.com

SMART politi­cians know it pays to keep the masses and the me­dia en­gaged and en­tralled by reg­u­lar head­line-grab­bing ac­tions. Noth­ing achieves that goal more ef­fec­tively than a sud­den reshuf­fling of the min­is­te­rial deck chairs, es­pe­cially if wildly pop­u­lar or in­tensely dis­liked fig­ures are in­volved.

So it proved once again when In­done­sia’s oft-un­der­es­ti­mated Pres­i­dent Joko “Jokowi” Wi­dodo abruptly dumped nine min­is­ters and jug­gled the jobs of four oth­ers on July 27.

It was his sec­ond reshuf­fle in un­der two years, and while di­rected pri­mar­ily at his do­mes­tic con­stituency, it drew global attention – both pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive.

And it reaf­firmed that Jokowi is a man now firmly in charge of the world’s fourth-largest coun­try, which, it bears re­peat­ing, con­sti­tutes 42 per­cent of ASEAN’s pop­u­la­tion and is the re­gion’s big­gest econ­omy by far.

In the months af­ter his sur­prise elec­tion in 2014, Jokowi did not al­ways fare well and of­ten looked out of his depth, so that within a year his ap­proval rat­ing had dropped from around 70pc to 40pc.

The prob­lem was not just in­ex­pe­ri­ence – he had shot from be­ing a small-town mayor to the pres­i­dency in just four years and had no ties to the na­tion’s tra­di­tional power bases – but also be­cause he lacked leg­isla­tive clout.

While he won the pres­i­dency com­fort­ably, his party and its al­lies lacked a work­ing ma­jor­ity in the 560-seat Peo­ple’s Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Coun­cil, as In­done­sia’s leg­is­la­ture is called.

That changed rad­i­cally this Jan­uary when the coun­try’s sec­ond-largest party be­lat­edly threw its sup­port be­hind Jokowi, giv­ing him a freer hand to im­ple­ment his bold re­formist agenda.

He be­gan to move quickly – as did his ap­proval rat­ings, which, at the end of last month, climbed back to 67pc, a fig­ure the likes of Barack Obama and An­gela Merkel could only dream about.

His up­surge cul­mi­nated in the re­vamp of his “Work­ing Cab­i­net”, and will help him push ahead with plans to re­vise the na­tion’s anti-ter­ror­ism laws and fire up the econ­omy.

Al­though the reshuf­fle was ex­ten­sive, and in­cluded new faces at the im­por­tant trade, en­ergy and in­dus­try min­istries, there were two changes in par­tic­u­lar that grabbed the head­lines.

One was the reap­point­ment as minister of fi­nance of Sri Mulyani In­drawati, who will be 54 this month and who held the post from 2005 to 2010 be­fore quit­ting to be­come a man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the World Bank.

Youth­ful, vi­va­cious, smart and very suc­cess­ful in her first stint at the job, she gained al­most rock-star pop­u­lar­ity for the way she sacked of­fi­cials in­volved in cor­rup­tion and be­gan re­form­ing the tax sys­tem.

She also over­saw such a ma­jor in­crease in in­vest­ment in In­done­sia that the growth rate shot up and the na­tional re­serves bur­geoned to US$50 bil­lion, the high­est level ever.

So why did she re­sign six years ago? Well, Sri Mulyani is a lady much in the mould of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Mar­garet Thatcher and Be­nazir Bhutto: She is de­ci­sive, de­ter­mined, in­tel­li­gent – and very stub­born.

She an­noys a lot of men, es­pe­cially the testos­terone-chal­lenged va­ri­ety. One such was Abur­izal Bakrie, im­mensely rich and head of a po­lit­i­cal party upon whose sup­port then-pres­i­dent Susilo Bam­bang Yud­hoy­ono re­lied.

Some­one had to go, and it was Sri Mulyani, whose move to the World Bank in Wash­ing­ton caused such un­ease in Jakarta’s fi­nan­cial cir­cles that the stock mar­ket fell by 3.8pc and the ru­piah cur­rency lost 1pc in value.

Now Jokowi has brought her back in a move that has been cheered by an­a­lysts and for­eign in­vestors, who love her tough re­formist credo and ad­her­ence to trans­parency and the rule of law.

That said, while she is in­ter­na­tion­ally lauded, she irks many at home due to her per­ceived ar­ro­gance and con­de­scen­sion to lesser mor­tals – again, the Daw Aung San Suu Kyi-Ms Thatcher syn­drome, you might say.

Cou­ple that with the fact that she is not af­fil­i­ated with any party and has no po­lit­i­cal sup­port base, and it be­comes clear that her re­call was a bold but risky move that could cause prob­lems for Jokowi in the fu­ture.

It was not, how­ever, half as bold and con­tro­ver­sial as his other key ap­point­ment, namely that of Wi­ranto, a for­mer army gen­eral and de­fence minister, as the na­tion’s new co­or­di­nat­ing minister for se­cu­rity af­fairs.

A deeply po­lar­is­ing fig­ure, Wi­ranto, 69, was charged in 2003 with crimes against hu­man­ity be­cause of the atroc­i­ties com­mit­ted by forces un­der his com­mand dur­ing the fi­nal stages of East Ti­mor’s war of in­de­pen­dence.

Be­fore that, he had been ac­cused of hu­man rights abuses when his men opened fire on un­armed students protest­ing against Pres­i­dent Suharto’s regime at Jakarta’s Trisakti Univer­sity in 1998, killing four young men.

So his ap­point­ment now as the na­tion’s se­cu­rity over­lord has drawn wide condemnation from civic so­ci­ety groups, and Western coun­tries like the United States have ex­pressed con­cern.

That will not faze Jokowi, who knows his do­mes­tic con­stituents well and knows how much they fear the grow­ing threat of ter­ror­ists, es­pe­cially those linked to the Is­lamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

He un­der­stands that when peo­ple are wor­ried in that way, they’d far rather have some­one strong and ruth­less, even if tainted, than some­one weak but sweet and pure.

So Wi­ranto will please most In­done­sians, and most cer­tainly the mil­i­tary, whose in­flu­ence Jokowi, as a civil­ian, must al­ways re­tain if he is to pros­per as pres­i­dent.

All told, his reshuf­fle has been mas­terly, both in its tim­ing and its key changes, which have boosted the heft of his cab­i­net and his own stand­ing.

Well done Jokowi; well done demo­cratic In­done­sia. It is an ex­am­ple to the rest of ASEAN, par­tic­u­larly the likes of Cam­bo­dia, Malaysia, Thai­land and Viet­nam.

In the months af­ter his sur­prise elec­tion in 2014, Jokowi did not al­ways fare well and of­ten looked out of his depth.

Photo: EPA

In­done­sia Pres­i­dent Joko Wi­dodo reads the oath of of­fice dur­ing a swear­ing-in cer­e­mony for new cab­i­net mem­bers at the State Palace in Jakarta, In­done­sia, on July 27.

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