Indonesia’s Jokowi Likely Loses Control of Presidency

Indonesia President Joko Widodo, scheduled to take the oath of office in October for his second term, very much appears to be a man who has lost control of his presidency. If indeed he does, Indonesia’s already faltering dalliance with democratic rule may be about to end.

Just how much he has lost control will be evident in the naming of his new cabinet at the same time of the swearing-in, which is drawing the threat of considerable protest, with more than 30,000 police and military on duty to attempt to prevent any violence from an increasingly disenchanted electorate.

Jokowi, as the president is known, he had earlier promised significant numbers would be filled with young technocrats. That may now be endangered. No names have been leaked. But one name rumored is that of Prabowo Subianto, the man Jokowi twice defeated for the presidency and who, in May, was believed to have been behind a bid to overturn the presidency by force in which six people died in demonstrations fomented by forces aligned with him.

Sources in Jakarta have been predicting for several weeks that Prabowo will be named defense minister although there has been no confirmation and it will be necessary to wait for the official pronouncement. It is uncertain if Gerindra, Prabowo’s party, will join the government. But one source said Golkar, once the dominant and thoroughly corrupt principal party, Gerindra and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P were jelling together in an unsettling alliance.

As an example of the president’s lack of clout, he was forced in mid-September to stand behind legislation emasculating the enormously popular Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), which has been responsible for the jailing of scores of government officials, politicians and the people who attempted to bribe their way to prosperity. Measures to weaken the KPK had been introduced twice before, to have Jokowi, as the president is known, stop them. A wide range of reform organizations, which condemned the measure, had vainly expected him to stop it again

Megawati Sukarnoputri, the powerful matriarch who bestrides the PDI-P – the party that Jokowi first rode to victory in 2014 – and others are also said to be behind a move that surfaced in August to amend the constitution to eventually end direct elections and return government to the era in which the strongman Suharto ruled the country for 34 years.

Megawati, the daughter of Sukarno, the founding father of the country, and Prabowo are members of the Indonesian aristocracy. Despite the antagonism between the two in recent years, she and Prabowo ram unsuccessfully as a team in 2009, losing to Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Jusuf Kalla.

Jokowi, a former furniture dealer and mayor of a small central Java city who rose to power give the governorship of Jakarta, is not a member of the aristocracy and his power base is hostage to Megawati, who has grown disenchanted with him, and precarious in the extreme.

Those behind the move to end direct democracy, according to an October 15 Bloomberg article by Arys Aditya and Karlis Salna, include – besides Megawati – Prabowo and a coterie of “Suharto-era power brokers” seeking to deprive Jokowi of his powers as president despite his 16.9 million popular vote trouncing of Prabowo.

The decision, still nascent, would return the presidency to an appointive position at the behest of a majority of the legislature, which would also approve five-year plans to govern the country, in effect returning power to the oligarchs. It would take a four-fifths vote of the legislature to amend the constitution.

It seems an astonishing, if not depressing misreading of the electorate and Jokowi’s popularity. The decision on the part of Megawati and the oligarchs to jam through the weakening of the KPK enraged the citizenry and sparked riots in a half-dozen cities. If indeed the oligarchs succeed in emasculating the presidency, it is likely to antagonize an electorate that, 20 years after Suharto’s death, has had access to increasing education, a free press and institutions such as political reform NGOs.

“Certainly it is being discussed,” said a Jakarta-based businessman, “but I think if they try to take away direct elections there will be hell to pay. The screwing of the KPK didn’t sit well with the electorate.”

Parliamentary leaders argued to Bloomberg that the guidelines would ensure greater cohesion and continuity in setting policy. Ahmad Basarah, a deputy speaker of the legislature and a senior member of the PDI-P, told the news agency that the changes would ensure that “the development road-map will not be disrupted just because of the likes and dislikes of the new president or the new ruling party.”

Megawati, who has long been disenchanted with Jokowi because of his reformist attitude and national star quality, served notice in a fiery speech to a party convention in August that she and she alone is in charge with the president forced to sit in the audience and watch. Jokowi told civic leaders earlier this month who demanded that he reverse the KPK bill that he is isolated and lacking support. One parliamentary leader went so far as to say the president could be impeached if he attempted to hold the line.

This month Megawati engineered the appointment of her daughter, Puan Maharani to head the house of representatives despite the daughter’s lack of legislative experience and shadows over her reputation. Setya Novanto, the former speaker who was put in prison for 15 years by the KPK, said Puan Maharani taken US$500,000 in bribes over the implementation of a corruption-riddled smart identification card that the KPK was investigating until the legislation that went into effect last week put the probe out of business.

The question is whether the president’s limited attempts at reform are now endangered – by the PDI-P as much as anybody, given its ration of corrupt political figures.

The makeup of the cabinet is likely to be a harbinger of the direction of the country as well. But the makeup of the forces arrayed against him – Muslims wanting stricter religious law, civil society wanting a cleanup of corruption, his own party ignoring him, a corrupt political class out for its own gain, all of which left him isolated as he said, doesn’t bode well.