Cabinet That’s All Show and No Go Fuels Dissatisfaction
Jakarta. President Joko Widodo’s popularity has taken a steep tumble following a slew of controversial policy initiatives, prompting a call for a cabinet reshuffle to boost his administration’s performance.
The results of a survey of 1,200 respondents on Monday showed that 60 percent were satisfied with the president’s performance in his first six months in office, compared to 75 percent when he started, said Mohamad Qodari, the executive director of pollster Indo Barometer.
“This shows that in the half-year of Jokowi’s presidency, public satisfaction toward the president has fallen far from” its initial high, he said. “It’s even lower compared to SBY,” he added, referring to former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s own ratings shift during his first six months in office.
Despite the drop, Joko still polled well compared to other top officials in his administration. Vice President Jusuf Kalla, drew an approval rating of 55 percent, while fisheries minister Susi Pudjiastuti topped the list of cabinet members with 24 percent of respondents saying they were satisfied with her performance in office.
A distant second, with less than 4 percent approval, was the usually highly regarded education chief, Anies Baswedan.
Indo Barometer carried out the survey from March 15 to 25 among respondents in all 344 provinces nationwide.
Observers point to the low ratings for the ministers for dragging down Joko’s numbers, arguing the president should consider a cabinet reshuffle.
“Joko must evaluate his cabinet’s performance,” Irman Gusman, the speaker of the Regional Representatives Council, or DPD, said on Monday. “I don’t think he should wait for a year to consider a reshuffle,” as suggested by coalition partners. “Do it soon, and the ratings will surely improve in the next six months,” Irman said.
Achmad Wijaya of the Indonesian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, or Kadin, said most of Joko’s ministers were too busy aping the president by engaging in blusukan, the community visits popularized by Joko during his time as mayor of Solo and later governor of Jakarta.
“Anyone can do blusukan. But not everyone can formulate a strategy and perform,” Achmad said. “There hasn’t been any clear outcome from all these blusukan. Ministers like these need to be replaced.”
He also called on the president to replace his four coordinating ministers, whom he accused of allowing the ministers they oversaw to work without any clear policy coordination.
Arbi Sanit, a political analyst from the University of Indonesia, said he was skeptical of any positive change even if Joko did reshuffle his cabinet, noting that the president would still need to make concessions to the parties in his coalition.
“This is a serious consideration for Jokowi. His cabinet composition will determine his administration’s political strength,” Arbi said.
Andar Nubowo of the think tank Indo Strategi said it was the president himself who was to blame for his administration’s poor performance, by failing to create breakthrough policies to boost public confidence in his government.
“He hasn’t done anything to fulfill his campaign promises of creating a ‘mental revolution’ and so on,” Andar said, referring to the vague catchphrase that underpinned Joko’s election campaign.
“People had high expectations of Jokowi, so his popularity has suffered when he’s failed to deliver.”
Joko’s trail of controversial moves began shortly after he took office in October last year, with his unveiling of a cabinet that included far more political appointees than he had promised.
The following month, he hiked the price of subsidized fuels, even as the world price of crude had tumbled — resulting in a bizarre situation where subsidized fuel actually cost more than it would have if the price was allowed to float.
The fuel price hike prompted a jump in food prices and public transportation fares, which have not gone down even as the fuel price has tailed off.
Irman said Joko’s handling of the fuel price was the major factor in the decline in his approval rating, calling it “the single unpopular decision which had the widest impact on Indonesians.”
“Joko must be more sensitive the next time he issues such policies,” he said.
The president has also disappointed with his nomination of a police chief and his mishandling of the fiasco that ensued, which left the nation’s much-vaunted anti-corruption commission crippled.
On the economic front, he has taken a markedly nationalist tone, hinting that the country could put in place protectionist measures once the Asean Economic Community — meant to open up borders, trade and investment across Southeast Asia — takes force at the end of the year, and mooting a mandatory Indonesian proficiency test for expatriate workers.
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