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From enemies to allies in six short months: Jokowi to invite Prabowo into cabinet

Sydney Morning Herald - October 22, 2019

James Massola, Jakarta – In six short months, they have gone from mortal political enemies to – seemingly – political allies who will work together in Indonesia's next cabinet.

In a move that would be unthinkable even in the tumultuous world of Canberra politics, Prabowo Subianto, the man Joko Widodo has twice defeated in bitter, partisan, Islamist-tinged battles for the presidency in 2014 and 2019, confirmed on Monday he would join the new administration.

"We have been asked to strengthen the cabinet in the defence area and we are ready to help," Prabowo said after meeting Joko at the presidential palace in Jakarta. "I will work hard to meet his goals and expectations," he said.

The renewed alliance between the two men – who started out as political allies nearly a decade ago in Indonesia's personality, not ideology-driven politics – has the potential to re-shape and contribute to a decline in the quality of Indonesia's democracy.

In a day of wheeling, dealing and stage-managed appearances at the Palace ahead of the expected announcement of the 34 member cabinet on Wednesday afternoon (AEDT) other appointments became clear too.

Billionaire businessman and media mogul Erick Thohir, who served as campaign chairman for Joko; Mohammad Mahfud MD, the former chief justice of the Constitutional Court; and Nadiem Makarim, the 35-year-old founder of ride-sharing app Go-Jek, which is now valued at more than $14 billion, also look set to be appointed.

"I want appointed ministers to be figures who are innovative, productive, as well as be hard and fast workers. Figures who are not stuck in monotonous routines," Joko said on Twitter.

Sri Mulyani, who has served as finance minister for both former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Joko and who is a former director of the World Bank is expected to remain, while reforming Investment Coordinating Board chief Tom Lembong could be promoted.

But there is concern about how many political appointments Joko will have to make to satisfy those in his broadening coalition – not least former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, who has already manoeuvred her daughter Puan Maharani into the job of Speaker of the parliament and who is often at odds with Joko – even though they belong to the same political party, the PDI-P.

The mixture of business hard-heads and technocrats selected versus political appointees imposed by coalition partners is being closely watched as a sign post to whether Joko will be able to pursue economic reforms that welcome foreign investment, reduce red tape and increase economic growth to his 7 per cent target.

Joko has faced weeks of protests over laws that gutted the respected anti-corruption commission, deadly pro-independence riots in Papua, draconian proposed changes to the country's criminal code and even a push by his political party allies to amend the constitution to let Parliament again choose the president – rather than voters.

Murdoch University Asia Research Centre lecturer Ian Wilson said Joko was starting his second term as a lame duck president and a "tragic" figure.

"Even if you give him the benefit of the doubt on the anti-corruption commission, that he didn't want to see its powers scuttled, he is a lame duck because he wasn't prepared to defend it," he said, referring to the President's ability to issue a regulation to overturn the legal changes.

"People hoped he would be a genuine reformer, but he has no runs on the board, he hasn't taken political risks... it's a safety measure, this coalition, and hardly a statement of resolve."

Joko's decision to join forces with Prabowo, who courted the support of Islamist parties during a vicious election campaign, underscores both the re-elected President's willingness to compromise and the tendency towards broad coalitions that have characterised Indonesian politics for decades.

In April, Prabowo and his Gerindra Party refused to accept Joko's thumping 55 to 45 per cent victory. Riots broke out, nine people died and the defeated former military general with a questionable human rights record claimed systematic voter fraud, though his legal challenge failed to prove these claims in court.

National University of Singapore post-doctoral fellow Sana Jaffrey said that in any democracy, the opposition played an essential role so the "systematic removal of the opposition is a big problem".

"You have a stable system, but you don't get a lot of reform. In Indonesia there is a trend towards getting rid of the opposition, you bring people in so they don't make trouble," she said.

Rather than making the task of pushing through legislation simpler, the broadened alliance could stymie reform as happened in Yudhoyono's second term because of the need to keep the coalition together.

Of the nine parties elected to the 575-member Parliament, several opposition parties including Prabowo's Gerindra and Yudhoyono's Democrats look likely to join Joko's coalition.

That would leave the mildly-Islamist Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) sitting alone in opposition and holding just 50 of 575 seats in the parliament.

Much would depend on whether the 68-year-old Prabowo saw the next five years as a chance to bow out of politics gracefully with one final appointment after tilts at the presidency and vice-presidency in 2004, 2009, 2014 and 2019 – or if it would be a platform for a tilt at the top job in 2024. "And for Jokowi, this is about appeasement."

Human Rights Watch Indonesia researcher Andreas Harsono said Prabowo's elevation to cabinet was "another reminder that Indonesia has not learned about their darkest days, having someone like Prabowo, not only as a cabinet member but also running for president over the last decade".

– With wires

Source: https://www.smh.com.au/world/asia/from-enemies-to-allies-in-six-short-months-jokowi-to-invite-prabowo-into-cabinet-20191022-p532vf.html