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Prabowo looks certain to protect status quo for political stability

Jakarta Globe - March 4, 2024

Thomas Rizal & Heru Andriyanto, Jakarta – Prabowo Subianto, the projected winner of the February 14 presidential election, is poised to take the reins from President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo whose unifying cabinet has become the standard bearers for maintaining political stability and ensuring the smooth implementation of impactful – albeit occasionally controversial – programs without facing parliamentary hurdles.

In the inauguration scheduled for October 20, Prabowo will succeed a president whose current approval rating remains stubbornly above 80 percent, according to numerous polls.

In a surprising move three days after securing his second presidential term in 2019, Jokowi appointed Prabowo, his sole rival in the previous two presidential elections, as the defense minister.

Speaking at an event last August, Prabowo revealed that he had accepted the offer to unite all resources for the country's best interests. "I believe I have made the right decision. Praise be to God, Indonesia is now more united and much stronger," said Prabowo.

This reconciliatory approach ensured that Prabowo's Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), then the second-largest party in the House of Representatives, joined the pro-government coalition. The alliance formed a formidable majority, controlling over 80 percent of House seats.

Even before this, Jokowi had strategically appointed Airlangga Hartarto, chairman of the Golkar Party with the third-largest share in House seats, as the industry minister midway through his first presidential term. Airlangga was subsequently promoted to the position of chief economic minister in 2019.

At a certain juncture, four party leaders were part of the Jokowi cabinet. This included National Mandate Party (PAN) Chairman Zulkifli Hasan, who served as the trade minister, and then-United Development Party (PPP) Chairman Suharso Monoarfa as the national development planning minister.

Jokowi's presidency was further solidified by the unwavering support of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the largest party in the House, although their relationship is now falling apart due to differences in the presidential election.

Additionally, the president appointed Sandiaga Uno, Prabowo's running mate in the 2019 presidential election, as the tourism minister.

Unifying figure

Renowned political researcher Muhammad Qodari said Jokowi's strategic decision to turn rivals into allies proved decisive in ensuring a stable government during his second term.

"The national unity has been instrumental in guiding Indonesia through the most challenging phases of the past five years, including the Covid-19 pandemic. I can't imagine if Prabowo was in the opposition camp; it would have posed significant challenges for the government in formulating and executing key policies," Qodari said in a recent interview with Jakarta Globe's sister publication Beritasatu.com.

Throughout his second term, the Jokowi administration secured parliamentary approval for the ambitious mega-project to relocate the national capital from Jakarta to East Kalimantan, a venture costing billions of dollars. Additionally, they passed a contentious law on job creation which sparked several deadly incidents during rallies where workers accused the law of heavily favoring employers.

In Qodari's idealistic perspective, the presidential election should function as a vetting process to identify the "future pilot and co-pilot of a giant plane named Indonesia," tasked with safely carrying the rest as passengers to the desired destination.

Aligning with other major pollsters, Qodari's Indo Barometer predicted that Prabowo, in collaboration with Jokowi's son Gibran Rakabuming Raka, would secure the presidency with around 58 percent of the votes sampled from 2,000 polling stations. This pairing is expected to surpass competitors Anies Baswedan and running mate Muhaimin Iskandar, as well as Ganjar Pranowo and his ticket mate Mohammad Mahfud MD.

The question arises: How will Prabowo continue Jokowi's legacy of a unifying approach?

"I mentioned during the Investor Daily Summit in October 2023 that if Prabowo wins the presidency, he might appoint Ganjar Pranowo as the home affairs minister, Mahfud MD as the chief legal and security minister, Anies Baswedan as the education and culture minister, and Muhaimin Iskandar as the coordinator minister for human development," Qodari said.

He provided a valuable perspective to better understand Indonesia's democratic system, which distinguishes itself from that of the United States and other Western countries by avoiding the zero-sum game, where the losing side receives nothing.

Defender of Jokowi's legacy

With Jokowi's son by his side, Prabowo appears poised to protect the status quo and carry on the legacy of his predecessor.

Having been a member of the Jokowi cabinet himself, Prabowo has firsthand experience with the effectiveness of a unifying cabinet.

In his victory speech on election night, Prabowo urged all election participants to set aside differences and unite in building the nation. "We will become the president and the vice president for the entire Indonesian people," he declared.

The PDI-P could pose a serious challenge to the next government following the strain in its relationship with Jokowi due to his thinly veiled endorsement of Prabowo's presidential bid.

Analyses by independent research agencies suggest that the PDI-P will once again secure the most House seats, although its share is expected to decrease by about 4 points.

Nearly all incumbent parties are likely to join the pro-government coalition, and Jokowi is paving the way in that direction. He recently appointed Democratic Party Chairman Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono as the agrarian affairs and spatial planning minister. Agus is the fifth party leader to serve in the Jokowi cabinet, and his inclusion also reconciled Jokowi with his predecessor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who is Agus' father.

Arya Budi, the lead researcher at Polltracking Indonesia, predicts that the National Democratic Party (Nasdem) and the National Awakening Party (PKB), which nominated Anies for president, will eventually join the Prabowo camp when the dust settles.

"We know Nasdem Chairman Surya Paloh has established a strong friendship with Jokowi, so Nasdem is very likely to join. As for the PKB and the PPP, history tells us that they can't stay outside of the government," he argued.

Assuming that the PDI-P and the Muslim-based Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) opt for an opposition role, the remaining seven incumbent parties will still control over 70 percent of House seats in the pro-government coalition.

Prabowo will need strong support in the parliament to implement his own programs, notably the free lunch plan for children and expectant mothers, which has become the flagship of his campaign theme and is predicted to consume a significant portion of the state budget.

Investors love political stability

Economists are embracing the anticipation of a smooth transfer of presidential power from Jokowi to Prabowo after peaceful elections.

"Peaceful elections send positive signals to investors and businesses operating in this nation," said Esther Sri Astuti, executive director of the Institute for Development of Economics and Finance (Indef).

She pointed to the share price index of the Indonesia Stock Exchange which gained 0.86 percent from the beginning of the year to two days after the elections.

Teuku Riefky, an economist from the University of Indonesia, emphasized the significance of political stability for Indonesia's economic resilience, especially during a time when other economies are experiencing a slowdown.

"We are in a crucial phase of government transition where maintaining stability is more important than anything else," he said. "Every election dispute must be settled promptly while assuring investors that all legal proceedings adhere to existing regulations."

Professionalism vs. power distribution

A political analyst has cautioned that selecting cabinet members based on power distribution among coalition members rather than professional capabilities could have adverse consequences for the future president.

"I'm aware that during this transitional period, they are simulating the cabinet composition. They will prioritize parties that support [Prabowo's] presidential bid before extending the reach to rivaling camps," warned Ujang Komarudin, a political expert at Al Azhar Indonesia University.

"Ideally, there should be a 50-50 balance between political parties and professionals in the cabinet. It would be even better if professionals accounted for 60 percent of the cabinet members. However, at the end of the day, the cabinet selection is exclusively the prerogative of the future president," he added.

[Fito Akhmad Erlangga, Ricki Putra Harahap, and Yustinus Patris Paat contributed to this story.]

Source: https://jakartaglobe.id/news/prabowo-looks-certain-to-protect-status-quo-for-political-stabilit