What Does Jokowi’s New Cabinet Mean for Indonesia?

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What Does Jokowi’s New Cabinet Mean for Indonesia?

The lineup offers some early insights on how his second term may shape up.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s inauguration for his second term and the naming of his cabinet should have drawn a line under a tumultuous year in Indonesia. The record-breaking one-day election in April handsomely returned Jokowi to power but also sparked deep division and deadly protesting. Business will not return to normal quite yet, with highly controversial picks within the cabinet and a near-total lack of opposition.

Prabowo’s Inclusion

Jaws dropped from Aceh to Papua in one of the more improbable chapters of Indonesian democracy with two-time challenger Prabowo Subianto named Minister of Defense. Diehard Team Jokowi supporters argue that the move is an expert level decision to keep enemies closer, but for many, it will be too close for comfort. Airlangga Pribadi Kusman, a lecturer from Airlangga University in Surabaya, argues that it could be a more natural fit than either side’s supporters would like to admit. He writes that while the two sides are deeply divided, both Jokowi and Subianto spring from the same well of oligarchic power and neither has been interested in pushing for a liberal order.

What this means for the hardline Islamic-right supporters of Subianto will be one to keep tabs on. Prior to the election, it appeared the mass mobilization groups, such as Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), needed somebody, not necessarily Subianto, and could be rallied behind any designated figurehead. FPI leader Rizieq Shihab has given uncharacteristic ‘no comment’ to the announcement. Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan appears frequently on the speculative 2024 long list and was warmly received by pro-Subianto demonstrators in May, suggesting he could be next.

A Man’s Cabinet

With little fanfare, Jokowi’s first cabinet in 2014 was unprecedented throughout much of the world for not just how many women it featured, but how prominent their roles would be. This year, he has gone backwards. Eight of 34 posts had been filled by women previously, now just five women feature in a 38-portfolio strong ensemble. Certainly, women should not be kept in roles they’re not suited to nor if, as I suspect the case is for outgoing Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti, they’re not invested in continuing. But the endeavor to always move forward towards equality should be there.

Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and Finance Minister Indrawati, who joined the cabinet in 2016, will both continue in their roles. Both of these women bode well for clear steering of the ship amid other, more controversial choices. Marsudi has performed well in her ministry with some autonomy given Jokowi’s long-noted priority of domestic affairs. Indrawati is highly respected among voters and has worked with notable transparency and communication to the country as Indonesia navigates headwinds from the U.S.-China trade war.

The outpouring of gratitude and crying-face emojis for Pudjiastuti shows how deeply she will be missed. Her policies had put her at loggerheads with Coordinating Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan and fishing communities across the archipelago, although that has largely since been repaired. But her down-to-Earth style contrasted sharply with the political elites she shared government with, showing that a little bit of authenticity can go far.


Nadiem Makarim entering the cabinet had been Jakarta’s worst kept secret for months. The 35-year-old founder of GoJek has ingratiated himself with Jokowi for years, including repeated visits to the Palace flanked by GoJek drivers and firmly branding the giant as homegrown, more so than any of the other four tech Unicorns. He has now left his post to serve as Minister for Education and Culture.

In the international tech world, the announcement has been met with confused bemusement. Why a founder would leave during an integral point in its expansion — GoJek is fighting turf wars against Grab across the region — has puzzled. Domestically, questions about Makarim’s credentials in education linger. Like many affluent Indonesians, Makarim was educated abroad and eventually picked up an MBA at Harvard. He has used that education to build an iconic company which has changed the way the country functions, but it has had a downside. GoJek has played a major role in entrenching a gig economy at the exact moment Indonesia needs to begin embracing its very young demographic dividend. Is he the right person to shape the policy needed to improve training and education for the next generation of workers?

Vote, But For What?

Progressive young voters will feel particularly snubbed. While the excited sheen of change from 2014 had well and truly rubbed off by the April election, efforts to stem an informal vote campaign had targeted this disenchanted cohort. Golput, the act of marking a ballot to indicate no candidate is acceptable, put the fear into the Jokowi campaign. Probably quite rightly, the team worried that it would be far more detrimental to the president than the challenger. A ‘jangan golput’, or ‘do not golput’, counter-campaign was established by the team in response.

Voters were told it is their duty to vote, that the legacy of 1998 is for all Indonesians to exercise their democratic rights. While we cannot officially know how many voters deliberately golput, final figures on accepted votes suggest that number was low. Social media discussions leaned toward a begrudging ‘lesser of two evils’ motivation, but inaction on haze and the response to conflict in Papua prior to the inauguration was already raising questions about how just how ‘lesser’ Jokowi is. The welcoming of Subianto will be seen as sealing that.

The blatant cynicism of the Jangan golput campaign and the immediate disregard of young people’s concerns will make it difficult for any future candidate to bridge an already immense trust deficit. The snubbing of Partai Solidaritas Indonesia, whose progressive credentials are fairly tepid, with a spot in the cabinet further sidelines young, vaguely center-left voices.

The Long Run

As has been widely noted elsewhere, Indonesia effectively has no functioning opposition. Partnership for Governance Reform’s Ririn Sefsani noted in a piece for the Jakarta Post last week that options for dissatisfied Indonesians are few. Just the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) formally remains in the opposition and civil society groups rarely have enough power to genuinely mount a challenge. She warns the lack of choice could deepen divides. “This would, in turn, be negative for efforts to reduce the polarization between the more conservative groups leaning to PKS and the more moderate Islamic political camp,” Sefsani writes.

First-term vice president Jusuf Kalla quietly noted this issue ahead of exiting his post earlier in the month. He maintains he was not privy to any of the conversations or negotiations for cabinet positions but said a robust opposition is needed for the country. “An effective government needs checks and balances. The checks and balances must exist.”