Slightly less than a month into Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s term in office, a few aspects of how Jokowi will govern are coming into focus. And since he promised major change in the first hundred days of his presidency, it is fair to analyze how he has done to this (short) point in time. Let’s run down how the former Jakarta mayor, who never held national office before, is doing in several key areas.
Jokowi’s Cabinet—Grade: B-
Although, on the campaign trail, Jokowi promised a cabinet of technocrats, in keeping with his reputation as an effective manager, in office he has had to deal with the reality that he ran on the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) ticket and that he has to reward political supporters to some extent. So, his cabinet includes PDI-P powers, like Puan Maharani, the daughter of current PDI-P head and former President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who was handed a coordinating ministerial portfolio but does not have the experience or skills to do the job. Worse, Jokowi handed the defense portfolio to Megawati loyalist Ryamizard Ryacudu. This was a horrible choice. As Edward Aspinall notes on the blog New Mandala:
It has been a 15-year tradition to appoint civilians to this post, as a symbol of civilian supremacy in the new Indonesia. This appointment breaks that tradition. It also appalls members of Indonesia’s human rights community. As Army Chief of staff back in the mid-2000s, Ryacudu not only infamously praised as ‘heroes’ soldiers who were convicted of murdering a famous Papuan independence campaigner, he also actively tried to sabotage the Aceh peace process and intensify military operations there in the aftermath of the December 2004 tsunami. He is the most conservative former military officer to have been included in a cabinet since 1999.
On the other hand, Jokowi appointed highly capable people in other important ministries like finance and education, the highest percentage of women to the cabinet of any Indonesian president in history, and ministers from outside the normal Jakarta elites. In addition, he made the savvy move of using the Corruption Eradication Commission as a veto-making institution to avoid appointing even more political hacks than was apparently necessary. He submitted a preliminary cabinet list to the commission, surely knowing that several of the people he submitted, who had been supported by his party, would be publicly rebuked by the commission for alleged crimes like graft. He then withdrew eight people from his list, all of whom surely were people he did not want in his cabinet anyway.
Ability to Work with Parliament—Grade: A-
One of the biggest concerns about Jokowi’s ability to govern as president has been the fact that his coalition in parliament controls less than half of the legislature. Prior to his inauguration, the losing presidential candidate, Prabowo Subianto, seemed determined to use his coalition in the legislature, which currently controls more than half the seats, to defeat virtually anything Jokowi might propose. But Jokowi seems to have made a solid start in neutralizing Prabowo’s power in the legislature, so much so that Prabowo saluted Jokowi during the presidential inauguration. Jokowi allies allegedly warned Prabowo and his allies that, if they continued to be obstructive, the new president might push for all kinds of investigations into his opponents’ business activities, legal or not. In addition, in the long run Jokowi still seems capable of potentially luring parties in parliament into his coalition, which would give him the majority in the legislature that he needs for an effective term in office. Whether or not he lures parties in his coalition, facing down Prabowo has shown that Jokowi is a much tougher political in-fighter than he had been given credit for.
Domestic Policy Initiatives—Grade: A-
Jokowi’s cabinet clearly is designed to focus on domestic policy, which is not surprising. Jokowi earned his reputation as an effective city manager, he has little international experience, and Indonesia faces huge domestic challenges. These daunting challenges include a slowing economy, a growing public deficit, and severe problems with graft in business and politics. Jokowi has promised to cut state fuel subsidies, which are a huge expense and major burden on the government’s budget, and he has vowed that he is willing to be unpopular in order to cut the subsidies. Former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who clearly understood the need to cut fuel subsidies, never was willing to take this step, likely because he did not have the courage to risk unpopularity. Jokowi deserves significant credit for taking on the fuel subsidy, a third rail of Indonesian politics.
Jokowi also this week launched his nationwide Health Card and his national Smart Card. These cards, modeled on programs he initiated as mayor of Jakarta and mayor of Solo, are designed to guarantee the poorest Indonesians a certain amount of health care and education, to be paid for by state funds. However, Jokowi’s administration appears to have rushed the rollout of these national cards. Several leading Indonesian think-tanks have warned that the cards are being handed out before the government has done an effective survey of Indonesia’s poor, or created a nationwide identification system to ensure the cards are not misused.
Foreign Policy—Grade: Incomplete
As expected, Jokowi has said and done little of significance on foreign policy issues. His foreign affairs minister is a respected former diplomat, but Jokowi himself still has enunciated few clear principles about major regional foreign policy issues. This lack of clarity is not a problem—yet. However, since Indonesia is the most powerful country in Southeast Asia and has increasingly taken on a major regional role in mediating conflicts, promoting democracy, combating terrorism, addressing the complicated ASEAN-China relationship, and other issues, Jokowi’s government cannot avoid foreign affairs indefinitely. And if Jokowi plans to let his ministers dominate foreign policy, he will soon find that on many issues, other countries in the region expect the Indonesian president to personally lead.
Joshua Kurlantzick is a fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations. This post appears courtesy of CFR.org.