10/23/2019, 16.32
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Widodo presents cabinet, which includes rival Prabowo

by Mathias Hariyadi

The president has named top military officials to key cabinet positions. The appointment of his main political rival has surprised public opinion. For one political scientist, in doing so, Widodo is pursuing a strategy “to crush enemies of the nation’s ideology”.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Indonesia has a new government. Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo presented his new cabinet yesterday (picture 1). The head of the state will now serve for a second, five-year term 2019-2024.

Widodo named several top military officials to key positions. General (Ret) Prabowo Subianto (picture 2), his rival in the 2014 and 2018 elections, will hold the Defence portfolio. General (Ret) Fachrul Razi will head the Religious Affairs Ministry. National Police Chief General (Ret) Tito Karnavian will be the Home Affairs Minister. General (Ret) Luhut Pandjaitan, one of Widodo's closest collaborators and contact person for relations with China, remains Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs.

For the general public, Prabowo’s appointment is the most surprising choice. Defeated by Widodo for a second time in last April's elections, the 58-year-old politician stood out for his controversial election campaign.

After the vote, Prabowo challenged the outcome, accusing the government of "massive and systematic fraud". This triggered violent street protests that left at least nine people dead.

In late June, Indonesia’s Constitutional Court (Mahkamah Konstitusi) rejected as "baseless” his appeal against the election result. Earlier this month, police arrested one of his closest political allies, General (Ret) Kivlan Zen, for instigating a plan to kill top national security officials.

For J. Kristiadi, a senior political analyst at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Jakarta, Indonesians must look at the “big frame” rather than individual appointments.

Widodo’s decision to appoint “some unexpected members is correct,” Kristiadi told AsiaNews. It reduces “potential political turbulence.” The president’s choice “makes sense”. Prabowo is “a former Army general” and “a nationalist and secular figure” who, as Defence Minister, can play a role in Widodo’s strategy “to crush enemies of the nation’s ideology.”

For Fr Paulus Christian Siswantoko, executive secretary of the Commission for the Laity of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Indonesia (KWI), “The president knows what he wants to do”. With his cabinet he can “maintain a balance between his preferences and the main demands of Indonesia society: a peaceful social situation.”

Arya Hadi Dharmawan, a lecturer at the Agriculture Institute of Bogor (LBP) points out that “By asking Prabowo to join the cabinet, President Jokowi has smartly reduced tensions in an already fragmented society."

Bambang Ismawan, founder of Bina Swadaya, one of Indonesia’s top NGOs, expects the new government to focus on “rural areas and implement a development strategy” for their residents.

“Villages have lost their spirit of working together, [. . .] gotong royong (mutual cooperation) in Indonesian.” For the 85-year-old, villages are the “most fundamental basis of the nation. If they are damaged, then the nation will follow.”

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