Jakarta – The media, social media and the public at large have made a big fuss over the Cabinet reshuffle, especially after President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo summoned numerous political bigwigs Tuesday evening, only to see just two substitutions in the lineup. We cannot therefore expect the small reshuffle to generate a big impact on the country that is poised to recover stronger.
President Jokowi inaugurated Zulkifli Hasan and Hadi Tjahjanto as the new trade minister and agrarian reform and spatial planning minister respectively on Wednesday, knowing that their entry into the Cabinet would further consolidate his power and keep him from being a lame duck president. The new ministers are simply old faces who have helped Jokowi run a stable government in their own capacities.
Zulkifli chairs the National Mandate Party (PAN), which opted to support Jokowi's rival, Prabowo Subianto, in the 2019 election for the sake of party unity but jumped ship and joined the ruling coalition after Jokowi won a second term. PAN followed in the footstep of Prabowo's Gerindra Party, which accepted Jokowi's offer of an olive branch in the name of national reconciliation.
Hadi is Jokowi's long-time buddy and served as the Indonesian Military (TNI) chief for a record four years until he was replaced by Gen. Andika Perkasa in November last year. Hadi's posting in the Cabinet further proves his good chemistry with the President, whom he has known since he was mayor of Surakarta in the late 1990s
Looking at the track records of the two newly installed ministers, it is unlikely that meritocracy was the primary consideration in President Jokowi's decision to recruit them. Zulkifli is simply a seasoned politician who once served as the forestry minister under president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2009-2014, during which a record 1.64 million hectares of forest land were converted into plantations according to Greenomics' estimate.
Zulkifli replaced Muhammad Lutfi as the latter was held responsible for the recent cooking oil debacle, which led to a decline in public confidence in the Jokowi government. Jokowi's approval rating hit a six-year low at 58.1 percent in mid-May amid dissatisfaction over soaring cooking oil prices and the failure of a crude palm oil export ban the government initiated to address the cooking oil crisis.
Whether Zulkifli will quickly show his mettle in a business that such a qualified person like Lutfi could not handle only time will tell. In fact the job has now changed hands three times within the half-time of Jokowi's second term. But for Zulkifli and PAN, the ministerial post is a coveted political asset that could define the party's performance in the upcoming elections, hence its survival.
Similarly, we have the right to doubt Hadi's capability to deal with complicated land affairs, considering his background as an Air Force man.
The Cabinet reshuffle lived up only to the elite's expectations, but not the public's. It is an anticlimax, or a missed opportunity at best. With all political parties gearing up for the 2024 elections already, Jokowi should have overhauled his Cabinet by replacing nonperforming ministers and those bidding to contest the race not only to avoid conflicting interests but also to help him focus on the unfinished business before he completes his term in October 2024.