Jakarta. President Joko Widodo must put careful consideration and thought into planning prospective changes in the composition of his Working Cabinet, observers note as calls for a ministerial reshuffle build into a crescendo.
“If the president thinks that cabinet members are not performing well, he needs to consider different ways of either improving teamwork, administrative processes, or the ministers themselves,” said Djayadi Hanan, executive director of Saiful Mujani Research & Consulting (SMRC).
“If he chooses to reshuffle, Joko needs to think very hard about how to communicate this to his own party supporters and the public, without alienating or losing support from either group.”
A reshuffle has long been in the cards for Joko’s cabinet, despite its relatively short period of existence.
“Even before a year of his administration, Joko’s approval rating has plummeted, which means that most of the public is becoming disappointed with his performance,” Djayadi said. “In our surveys, the president’s approval rating was around 40 percent. We can compare this to data on the previous president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who received around 65 percent or above in the same period.”
“This disappointment is both in terms of Joko’s general performance, and in terms of the performance of his cabinet ministers,” Djayadi added.
In recent weeks, President Joko has remained guarded on the topic of a prospective cabinet reshuffle.
“I never mentioned a reshuffle; the press keeps talking about a reshuffle,” Joko said on July 9, in direct contrast to statements from Vice President Jusuf Kalla on the imminence of a reshuffle.
Despite conflicting reports, Djayadi argued that a cabinet reshuffle must be enacted at some point.
“When we asked the public for their opinion of ministers, the ratings in general were low. The highest ranking was the 27 percent approval for Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Susi Pudjiastuti.”
“This is a strong warning to the president to make sure his next moves address the concerns of the public, in terms of his performance in the economy, in corruption eradication, and his performance in terms of key political issues,” Djayadi said. “There is a need to reshuffle the cabinet. It’s there. But the timing is important.”
Slowdown and uncertainty
Calls for a cabinet reshuffle have become increasingly common amid slowing growth of the Indonesian economy.
“The current economic slowdown is in part due to the complications in government budget expenditure, which is now very late in terms of disbursement,” said Arief Bustaman, a lecturer with the department of economics at Padjadjaran University in Bandung.
“In nearly every ministry, the overall budget absorption is perhaps only 20 percent, which means that many government projects have become very delayed in execution.”
According to Djayadi, economic worries have factored deep into into discontent towards Joko’s cabinet.
“The disappointment in Jokowi’s performance is in large part due to his performance in the economy,” Djayadi said, referring to the president by his popular nickname. “If the economy continues to deteriorate, if the rupiah continues to plummet to the bottom of the sea, and if the price of basic goods and transportation keeps rising, then there will be a point where people will have had enough.”
In reshuffling the makeup of his cabinet, Joko may be able to provide much-needed stability in a time of uncertainty
“A cabinet reshuffle could be helpful in increasing investor confidence in Indonesia,” Arief said on Saturday. “Currently, it seems there is no coordination between ministries. Their programs are not well coordinated, and it is a pity that the vision and mission of the president’s administration have not been executed by the ministers.”
In particular, Arief highlighted conflicting economic policy decisions among ministers as a cause for concern.
“The Ministry of Trade is now moving to protectionist policies, while other countries in the region are working towards liberalizing their economies.”
“When it comes to coordination between ministries, especially the Ministry of National Development Planning, it seems like there’s no guiding planning documents. They don’t produce planning documents.”
“So these ministries are confused about the direction of their programs in relation to the president’s mission,” Arief added.
Djayadi also believes that communication woes have led to discontent, as cabinet members struggle to connect with the public.
“The slowdown of the Indonesian economy is not merely because of the bad performance of the government. It’s also because of a slowdown of the economy in general, which is a variable that cannot be entirely controlled by the government.”
“The administration has to explain to the public, elegantly, that the economic slowdown isn’t just because of the domestic situation.”
“Concurrently, the president needs to offset the negative impact of the global economic slowdown by massively building infrastructure projects inside Indonesia using the national budget,” Djayadi added.
However, enacting large-scale projects may be easier said than done, as a lack of job security for top officials has led to inaction in government efforts to combat unfavorable economic conditions.
“Some of these processes won’t begin within this year, because officials fear that they will get fired if their projects cannot get finished quickly,” said Arief.
Djayadi concurred, noting that the president must take an active role in ensuring a sense of stability among cabinet members.
“As a leader, the president needs to give certainty to his cabinet, to make them feel secure enough to do something in their capacity as ministers. If they fear that they’ll be fired at any time, they won’t work well.”
“It’s difficult to work well, to make any long-term plans, if there’s the threat of being replaced without warning. There’s no job security,” Djayadi said.
In June, Joko told media outlets to refrain from disrupting minsters with questions regarding a reshuffle.
“Do not disturb ministers who are still at work. Do not create issues. You should not cause a ruckus by asking about the performance reports of the ministers.”
“Only the president needs to know,” Joko said.
According to observers, Joko will need to take into account an array of competing interests in managing a prospective cabinet reshuffle, as political interests fight to push the president into reallocating ministerial seats.
“There is pressure from political elites, both inside and outside the president’s circle, that have been pushing the president towards reshuffling the cabinet,” Djayadi said. “Politically, a reshuffle could be the entry point for the president to add up more partisan powers to his coalition, so that the number of seats he commands in national legislature [DPR] adds up to a simple majority, at least.”
“Because of its internal changes in some of the opposition parties, more groups are becoming open to cooperating with the president. Joko could take advantage of this situation in the form of granting political concessions, by granting posts to these parties,” Djayadi said.
However, bringing opposition elements into the cabinet may spark the ire of camps from within Joko’s coalition, who themselves seek to be better represented in any new cabinet.
“The current members of Joko’s coalition, many of whom have been there from day one, may not be happy if the number of ministerial of posts they hold now is reduced,” said Djayadi. “If the president intends to bring in opposition ministers without revoking posts from his own coalition, then it will come at the cost of losing ministers who are unaffiliated with parties.”
Capitulating to political motivations by reducing the number of ministers not affiliated with parties may prove an unpopular move for the president, as public opinion favors the depoliticization of the cabinet.
“If he brings in ministers from parties like Golkar and Gerindra, Joko will be increasing the proportion of political appointments to his cabinet, which betrays the promises he made on the campaign trail,” Djayadi said.
During his presidential election campaign, Joko made numerous statements vowing to limit political jockeying in cabinet operations, mandating that all appointees give up any roles within up roles within political parties.
Thus far, Joko’s mandate has made little impact, as key cabinet figures like Puan Maharani from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) maintain their positions within political factions.
Moreover, Joko’s drive to reshuffle the cabinet may face obstacles in finding candidates suitable enough to sit in ministerial posts.
On June 3, President Joko spoke to chief editors from Indonesia’s major news organizations on difficulties in finding people to fill crucial administrative posts, citing a lack of trust and communication.
“I need staffers I can trust,” Joko admitted. “My [ideal] staffers would be those who, when they speak, the public believes them, investors believe them, the markets believe them. Their words are irrefutable.”
“I’m still racking my brains. It’s hard [to find such people],” Joko added.
Joko’s decision to either bow to political or technocratic pressures will be contingent on the president’s assessment of his own political stability, analysts note.
“If he bows to political pressure in appointing ministers, it shows that he still suffers from a lack of power,” Djayadi said.
“But if Joko ignores that, and considers only technocratic and public opinion considerations, then it shows that he’s confident in his ability to consolidate his own political power.”
According to Djayadi, the president’s actions in handling the cabinet reshuffle will be subject to immense public scrutiny, and could have significant impact on public opinion of national leadership moving forward.
“No matter what happens, Joko needs to show us more in the next four years,” Djayadi concluded. “He needs to be ready to show the public that he is a leader, otherwise people will continue to be disappointed.”