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Analysis: Big government means bigger budget. Can Prabowo deliver?

Jakarta Post - May 20, 2024

Tenggara Strategics, Jakarta – President-elect Prabowo Subianto is pushing for a big government for when he takes over the helm in October, but it is not so much because he has ambitious big programs to run, but more because he needs to parcel out cabinet posts to political parties, individuals and institutions that helped him win the February election. As if that is not enough, Prabowo is inviting some of the political parties that had supported rival candidates in the race to join his ruling coalition, so he has even more strategic government jobs to give out.

The House of Representatives has started deliberation on legislation that would allow Prabowo to expand the number of ministers in his cabinet from the maximum 34 set under the current law. His camp has mentioned a figure of 40 or 41 without providing details about what new ministries would be created. The bill for this legislation is guaranteed a swift passage since many of the factions in the House will be among the beneficiaries of the planned cabinet expansion. The draft of the revision to the 2008 Ministries Law, submitted this month, quickly made it into the House's legislative agenda. House members are optimistic the bill would be passed before the Oct. 20 presidential inauguration.

Parties and individuals are already jockeying for cabinet positions, publicly touting names they think should be included, although it is more than five months before the inauguration. Prabowo, who has the sole constitutional prerogative, is not likely to be rushed. Besides political parties, state institutions like the Indonesian Military (TNI) and the National Police, and pressure groups like the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia's largest Islamic mass organization, will also be claiming their rewards.

And there is outgoing President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, to whom Prabowo is indebted for mobilizing people to vote for him in February. Jokowi already has his 36-year-old son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, as vice president-elect, but given his power ambitions, he is likely looking for an even more strategic role in the next government.

Prabowo is still working to expand his coalition to bring in more parties besides those that had supported his presidential bid: his own Gerindra Party, the Golkar Party, the Democratic Party and the National Mandate Party (PAN) and smaller parties like the Moon and Crescent Party (PBB) and the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI), which did not meet the threshold of parliamentary votes to get representation in the House. Among parties that supported rival candidates, the NasDem Party and the Nation Awakening Party (PKB) are almost certain to join the ruling coalition, as is the Islamist United Development Party (PPP), although it failed to win House seats this time around.

The big prize for Prabowo is if he could enlist the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P). He will get his answer on May 26 when PDI-P matron Megawati Soekarnoputri is expected to announce her decision whether to join Prabowo or play the opposition role. The party won the most votes in the legislative elections and could boost Prabowo's hands in the House, although without it, he already has a controlling majority. If the PDI-P joins, the Prabowo coalition will control more than 90 percent of House seats. The Islamist Justice Welfare Party (PKS) will be the sole opposition party in the House.

What's More

Prabowo last week warned those who remained in opposition not to obstruct his programs.

"You can watch from the side-lines, be a good spectator. If you refuse to cooperate, at the very least, don't be disruptive," Prabowo said, prompting discussions about how far the former Army general would tolerate opposition once he takes charge.

Giving out cabinet seats has become a traditional practice by elected presidents to expand their ruling coalition and secure control of the House. Past presidents circumvented the legal limit by creating vice-ministerial posts, which is not regulated by law.

Expanding the cabinet size, and adding ministries would mean a bigger budget just to run the government, not to mention the programs.

Past experience shows it could take as long as two years before new ministries can operate effectively. There is staff recruitment and the creation the organization, structure and processes, finding new office buildings and securing the budget from the Finance Ministry, all of this will take time.

Prabowo will have big item spending that he promised during his election campaign, including the free-lunch school program and the completion of the new capital city Nusantara in East Kalimantan. He will also have to spend a huge amount of money on the TNI to buy weapons and strengthen Indonesia's defense capabilities.

Prabowo claims he has figured out how to finance his programs, that he will have the money. His camp has said that it plans to get the House lift the maximum 3 percent deficit the government is permitted in its budget under the current law.

Historically, big government not only means big spending. Expect a more active if not intrusive government. In economic and business, this means the government crowding out private sector investment, something that is already happening under Jokowi with state-owned companies (SOEs) taking up the lion share of loans and government contracts.

Human rights activists warn of the impacts on freedoms and democracy with an intrusive government, associating it with George Orwell's "big brother is watching you" in 1984.

Mahfud MD, the former coordinating political, legal and security affairs minister, warned that a bigger cabinet could mean more corruption in the ministries, noting that several ministers under Jokowi had already gone to jail for corruption.

Giving a positive spin to the planned cabinet expansion, Gerindra senior politician Habiburokhman said Indonesia was a big country with many big challenges that deserved a big government. "The more, the merrier, in my opinion," he said.

What we've heard

A source said revision of the State Ministries Law will include removal of a provision on the number of ministries and will leave the matter to the president.

A lawmaker familiar with the planned amendment of the law said the new law would give the president a free hand to determine the size of the cabinet in accordance with the government's needs.

The source claims the idea reflects Indonesia's presidential system of government. "The number will not be pegged, so it can increase or decrease," he said.

Several politicians from the coalition supporting Prabowo agree that the increase in the number of ministries is intended to accommodate the large coalition that will support Prabowo government. This source said that Prabowo's planned scenario includes splitting the Environment and Forestry Ministry into two distinct entities. Another ministry that might be divided is the Public Works and Housing Ministry.

The revision of the law is expected to be passed before the Jokowi administration ends its term in October 2024. The source suggested that Prabowo and his expert team are currently formulating the cabinet structure to align with the agendas and programs outlined in his campaign platform.

[This content is provided by Tenggara Strategics in collaboration with The Jakarta Post to serve the latest comprehensive and reliable analysis on Indonesia's political and business landscape.]

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2024/05/20/analysis-big-government-means-bigger-budget-can-prabowo-deliver.htm