Jokowi's 'Business As Usual' Cabinet Is Bad News For West Papua


The final announcement was made an hour behind schedule, and it went down to the wire. Emphasising the importance of having a clean team, Indonesia’s new President Joko Widodo (known as Jokowi) was forced to ditch eight members in line for cabinet positions after negative assessments from anti-corruption watchdogs.

A leaked draft of the cabinet membership published by The Jakarta Globe just hours before the final announcement contained a different Communications Minister to the one announced and the rejected minister turned up wearing the same uniform as the cabinet, suggesting he hadn’t even been given time to change.

Sartorial confusion aside, how well did Jokowi’s cabinet clean up go?

On the upside, the number of women included increased.

But the outcome overall is far from the fresh line-up many voters hoped the new president would deliver. Edward Aspinall, a professor of politics at the Australian National University, argues this cabinet is an unadventurous continuation of ‘business as usual’ politics, with a prevalence of mediocre party politicians over reformist technocrats.

Jokowi exceeded his self-imposed limit of 16 partisan appointments, with a strong bias towards politicians of his own party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), and towards professionals linked to the PDI-P chairwoman and former president Megawati Sukarnoputri.

This partisanship has given the president’s rivals an opportunity to question his authority with respect to his party chief. During the presidential campaign there was anti-Jokowi advertising to the effect that “if Jokowi wins, Mega will be the president”.

In a country where the president once had dictatorial power, the notion of Jokowi taking orders from Megawati is seen as highly improper, and it gives his rivals ammunition.

But the cabinet appointment that best illustrates this uneasy dynamic between president and party leader is that of the new Defence Minister: Ryamizard Ryacudu.

Ryamizard is a very conservative retired general who has been connected to the Indonesian political elite for decades. His father Musanif Ryacudu was also a general, known to be a loyal supporter of President Sukarno, Megawati’s father. When the Army under General Suharto forced Sukarno out of power in the mid-1960s, Musanif quickly switched sides to the new regime, in contrast to many other Sukarnoists who were purged and jailed. His son Ryamizard was able to show loyalty to the Suharto regime, even marrying the vice-president’s daughter, while maintaining links with the Sukarno family.

After Suharto was toppled in 1998 and Megawati herself became president in 2001, she promoted Ryamizard to Army Chief-of-Staff and tried to give him the top Armed Forces job, before the decision was blocked by her successor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

What this tangled family history shows is that Jokowi has not been able or willing to sweep out of his government the nepotistic military ties that made his opponent Prabowo Subianto (Suharto’s ex-son-in-law) so unappealing to reform-minded Indonesians.

What might Ryamizard bring to the policy table? As Chief-of-Staff he took a hardline approach to crush the separatist movement in Aceh and was instrumental in a 2003 military operation that involved wholesale terrorisation and abuse of the region’s civilian population.

He is likely to be an obstacle to prosecuting soldiers who commit abuses, having said of a group of Special Forces soldiers who murdered the prominent Papuan leader Theys Eluay in 2001: “to my mind, they are heroes”.

Ryamizard appears to think that extreme violence against civilians is heroic if it is for the sake of the unity of the Republic, which is a very worrying sign for Papuans.

When Ryamizard was asked about his human rights record after being appointed Defence Minister, he responded by asking “why are people only bringing up this issue now that I’ve been appointed a minister?”

This deflection is bizarre in how obviously false its premise is (people have always talked about Ryamizard’s record), and happens to be worded exactly the same way as Prabowo’s response to similar questions during the election campaign. Human rights organisations are livid that Jokowi, having used Prabowo’s record of abuse and murder to defeat him in the election, would place Ryamizard in a position where he can protect perpetrators and encourage further crimes.

The new president is already weak. Jokowi is outnumbered in the parliament and several senior members of his cabinet are personally loyal to Megawati rather than to him, which gives him little capacity to impose his own authority on the government.

It seems likely that Jokowi will pick his battles by focussing on portfolios such as education and maritime affairs that are managed by professionals of his choosing, and leave areas such as defence and foreign affairs to be run with significant autonomy.

Despite the president’s promises to clean up the government, the stain of dirty military-dynastic politics is extremely hard to get out.

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