Ghina Ghaliya, Jakarta – Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto is reportedly lying low amid a string of controversial policies enacted by President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's administration to contain the spread of COVID-19 and limit its economic fallout.
The Gerindra Party, of which Prabowo is the chairman, joined the pro-government coalition after bitterly contesting the 2019 presidential election. Even within the coalition, the party has sometimes been openly critical of the government. The former opposition party initially rejected the issuance of Regulation in Lieu of Law (Perppu) No. 1/2020, which expanded the government's spending authority to manage the impact of COVID-19, but the party eventually gave its approval for the regulation in a House of Representatives plenary meeting on Tuesday.
The party's members have been divided when responding to other policies, such as the establishment of the preemployment card, whether and how to ease large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) and, most recently, the Health Care and Social Security Agency (BPJS Health) premium hike. Some have been outspoken against the measures, while the others have remained silent.
Prabowo and Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Edhy Prabowo, a fellow member of Gerindra, have reportedly chosen not to appear in the spotlight alongside other Cabinet members during the pandemic.
Gerindra deputy chairman Arief Poyuono, who often criticizes the government, brushed off reports of tension, saying that the party was still loyal to Jokowi. However, he called on Jokowi's ministers to avoid making blunders that could cause anxiety and mistrust in the public.
"The other ministers should be like him [Prabowo]. He's not someone who triggers public anger toward Pak Jokowi," he told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.
Arief said Prabowo had not complained to other party members about their criticism of the government. Instead, Jokowi's two-time presidential competitor had reminded his subordinates in the party to remain critical of the government.
In mid-April, after not speaking in public for quite some time, Prabowo posted a video on Twitter, saying that Jokowi was fighting for the nation and the people.
"I look closely at his decision-making methods and I see that he always considers public safety, the poor and the weak. I also see his commitment to combat corruption," Prabowo said.
Arief said Prabowo's message was a reminder to party members to be supportive of Jokowi as a leader but not to be silent when his aides faltered during the crisis.
"Prabowo wants to defend Jokowi, his boss, because he has been criticized by some figures and political parties outside the government," he said.Arya Fernandes, a political analyst from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said that of all the parties in the coalition, Gerindra was facing the most complicated situation as its members were divided over Prabowo's decision to join the Cabinet. He said the party might be worried that government blunders would cause Gerindra voters to jump ship to other parties.
"They cannot do much in a time like this. [It] would greatly benefit the opposition parties. Considering Gerindra voters' behavior, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) would get most of the advantage from a migration," Arya said.
Arya added that Gerindra's position was different from Golkar when it joined the government in Jokowi's first term as a veteran party with a strategic position in the legislature.
"Golkar can influence the rhythm of the coalition, but Gerindra's political effect is not as dominant."
"I think Prabowo understands this, so he doesn't want to appear as a government fanatic or be too flashy. He also wants to protect the psychology of Gerindra voters," Arya said.
Indonesia Political Review executive director Ujang Komarudin also thought Prabowo's silence was a result of his position in the Cabinet.
"He is trapped by political reconciliation. Although he knows that some policies are not pro-people, like it or not, Prabowo should stay silent because he is Jokowi's aide," he said.
Ujang said Gerindra would remain in the Jokowi coalition even though the alliance had put the party in difficult circumstances.
"Gerindra is in a dilemma. They need public support to win in the 2024 race, but on the other hand, they are in Jokowi's coalition. They must accept it, although it might hurt their chest," he added.