Jakarta – In the past few months, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has hinted several times at an imminent Cabinet reshuffle, only to leave the public holding their breaths every Wednesday, the President's favorite day to announce ministerial replacements.
The continuing indecisiveness points to a power play that benefits only the political elite in the lead-up to the 2024 elections, but this must stop for the public good.
For better or worse, President Jokowi should make good on his promise to shake up his Cabinet, or else his government's performance and credibility will be at stake as many of his ministers switch their focus to next year's elections.
Half of the ministers in the Indonesia Onward Cabinet are members of political parties that supported Jokowi's reelection or, in the case of the Gerindra Party and the National Mandate Party (PAN), those that left the opposition camp to join the ruling coalition. Jokowi has instructed all ministers to put their state duties before their parties' interests, but this order may fall on deaf ears. While Jokowi will leave office in October 2024, his ministers and other politicians still have to survive.
As the winner of the 2019 legislative election, the President gave the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) four ministerial posts. Golkar got three, the National Awakening Party (PKB) three and Gerindra two, while the United Development Party (PPP) and PAN each got one.
The President had another chance to overhaul his Cabinet last month, when Zainudin Amali resigned as the sports and youth affairs minister following his election as the deputy chairman of the Soccer Association of Indonesia (PSSI).
Jokowi could even lose his golden opportunity to reshuffle his Cabinet, which he needs to do to fulfill his campaign promises and leave a long-lasting legacy after his term ends next year, so he should make up his mind and make bold decisions now.
The Constitution gives the President the prerogative to appoint and dismiss Cabinet members, and no outside forces can intervene. Jokowi's coalition government also controls 80 percent of the House of Representatives, not to mention his high public approval ratings, according to several opinion surveys.
Given the solid political and popular support he enjoys today, appointing nonpartisan technocrats to his government to help him complete his term with flying colors is an opportunity not to be missed.
Since last October, the President has repeatedly said he planned to reshuffle his Cabinet after the pro-government NasDem Party declared it was backing former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan as its presidential candidate. The Democratic Party and Muslim-based Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) also announced they would be supporting Anies, who many say is the antithesis of Jokowi.
Many, especially the PDI-P, have mounted pressure on Jokowi to expel NasDem from the government and therefore its three ministers from the Cabinet, but to no avail. Jokowi himself has expressed his displeasure with NasDem's decision to give his former education and culture minister a shot at the presidency.
NasDem cadres in the Cabinet are Agriculture Minister Syahrul Yasin Limpo, Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar and Communications and Information Minister Johnny G. Plate. Their ouster, if it happens, will barely affect the government's control of the House.
Meanwhile, the President has signaled that he is prepared to endorse the 2024 bids of Defense Minister and Gerindra chairman Prabowo Subianto as well as Central Java Governor and PDI-P cadre Ganjar Pranowo. But the PDI-P, the country's largest political party to which Jokowi also belongs, is still keeping mum about its presidential pick.
Ganjar, Prabowo and Anies, in that order, have consistently topped a number of electability polls. The latest survey by Kompas' research division showed that Ganjar could beat both Prabowo and Anies in a two-horse race.
Many eyebrows have been raised over why the President continues to be hesitant about replacing his ministers, despite promising to do so. Jokowi insists he cannot replace Zainudin, simply because the Golkar politician has still not submitted his resignation letter, though Golkar chairman Airlangga has prepared Zainudin's replacement.
The President should walk his talk of a Cabinet reshuffle, or else his credibility will take a hit, and the public will be left with yet another prolonged uncertainty.