Marguerite Afra Sapiie and Marchio Irfan Gorbiano, Jakarta – President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has defended his decision to include members of the erstwhile opposition, the Gerindra Party, in his new Indonesia Onward Cabinet. He says it was done in the name of Indonesia's gotong royong (mutual cooperation) democracy.
Jokowi's second-term Cabinet includes 38 ministerial seats with both nonpartisan members and political party representatives, including two seats given to members of Gerindra. Party chairman Prabowo Subianto has been named defense minister and party executive Edhy Prabowo has been named maritime affairs and fisheries minister.
The President's choice of Prabowo to lead the Defense Ministry has raised eyebrows, given the former army general's position as Jokowi's staunch opponent during the 2014 and 2019 elections and his role as a critic of the government over the past five years.
Jokowi told journalists at the State Palace that he decided to include Prabowo's Gerindra in his Cabinet because the concept of opposition did not exist in Indonesia's democracy, which he said embodied the spirit of gotong royong.
"If it's good for the country and for the nation, why not?" Jokowi said on Thursday afternoon, adding that he chose Prabowo as the defense minister because "he has experience in the field."
Prabowo's appointment to the Defense Ministry – a key post responsible for forming the general national defense strategy – has met with criticism from human rights groups and experts who have pointed to Prabowo's checkered military career and have questioned his fitness to lead a ministry that should be spearheading military reforms.
As commander of the Army's special forces, Kopassus, Prabowo was allegedly involved in the forced disappearance of 13 prodemocracy activists between 1997 and 1998. He has also been accused of being involved in other human-rights abuses, including during the Army's East Timor counter-insurgency operations in the 1970s. Prabowo has repeatedly denied all such allegations.
Rights activists, including those from the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), as well as survivors and families of victims of past human rights violations, demanded Jokowi revoke Prabowo's appointment as minister, given his tainted human rights record.
Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD, whose remit includes the Defense Ministry, declined to comment when asked on Thursday about the activists and victims' demands.