James Massola, Jakarta – Indonesian President Joko Widodo has cut the number of women in his cabinet, appointed a bitter political rival and appointed several new ministers that signal a willingness to take on political Islamists.
The much-anticipated unveiling of the president's second term cabinet confirmed that Prabowo Subianto – who ran against Joko for the presidency in 2014 and 2019 – and his Gerindra Party have joined what is now an expanded six-party ruling coalition, which will control about 74 per cent of the seats in parliament.
Prabowo, a former boss of Indonesia's special forces who has long denied accusations of human rights abuses, will become Defence Minister.
Just three parties – former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Democrats, the National Mandate Party and the Islamist Prosperous Justice Party – will comprise the weakened opposition, with the first two having held discussions about joining the government coalition as well.
The number of women in the 38-member cabinet has fallen from eight to five, though two of those women – Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and Finance Minister Sri Mulyani, a former World Bank director – retained their influential positions.
A total of six retired generals occupy cabinet level posts and just over 50 per cent of the ministers are technocrats, rather than political appointments.
Popular Fisheries minister Susi Pudjiastuti, whip-smart Investment Coordinating Board chief Thomas Lembong and the influential Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Wiranto are among the 22 changes the president made to his line-up.
Other consequential appointments include respected former Constitutional Court chief justice Mahfud MD to replace Wiranto, National Police chief Tito Karnavian as Home Affairs Minister and former general Fachrul Razi as Religious Affairs Minister.
Aaron Connelly, from Singapore's International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the retention of Law Minister Yasonna Laoly and Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya and the promotion of Tito suggested recent countrywide protests over a weakening of the anti-corruption commission, now-paused changes to the country's criminal code, the huge forest fires that have swept Sumatra and Kalimantan and the violent riots in independence-minded Papua province seemed to have had little impact on Joko's thinking.
"Joko's strategy is about surrounding himself with powerful figures who offset each other, with the belief this makes him the most powerful figure, but he's actually in quite a weak political position. There are too many irreconcilable interests around him now... eventually something has to give," he said.
"He seems to have decided that the protests were a flash in the pan and the students won't return to the street, and he may be right."
After an election campaign in which hardline Islam and political identity played a prominent role, particularly among some of Prabowo's supporters, the president appeared ready to tackle radicalism.
"With the exception of Prabowo you have a group of ministers (including Tito, Mahfud MD and Fachrul) who are prepared to take on radicals," Connelly said. "This is something Joko has told his aides, he wants to make sure there are no radicals."
This could lead to a period of increased political instability in Indonesia, Connelly added, and some of the judgements on what constituted a "radical" could be as much political as they are religious.