Jokowi marketing himself as the next “Bapak Pembangunan” (Father of Development), a nickname given to former president Soeharto who left behind a legacy of infrastructure and debt
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is now a fluent player in the game of patronage politics after successfully consolidating power just two years into office. The former mayor of Surakarta and governor of Jakarta has even gone so far as to bring back “developmentalism” governance, which dominated Indonesian politics for three decades during the New Order era.
This analysis was delivered by Australian National University (ANU) researcher Eve Warburton during the 2016 ANU Indonesia Update in Canberra on Sept. 16.
“Jokowi is now the undisputed boss of the administration,” stated Eve Warburton in front of 400 participants in the annual conference hosted by one of Australia’s most prestigious universities.
She highlighted how Jokowi had successfully consolidated power in the government through coalition building. Jokowi began with a minority government, but gradually expanded his powerbase, and is now supported by 69 percent of the House of Representatives. His approval ratings have also reached all-time highs following his latest Cabinet reshuffle, an impressive feat considering his blunder in appointing US citizen Arcandra Tahar as energy and mineral resources minister.
Jokowi consolidated power through manipulating factional divisions within opposition parties. By siding with pro-government factional leaders, he interfered in internal matters in order to secure the coalition. Furthermore, through Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Luhut Pandjaitan’s personal networks and business connections, Jokowi successfully pressured opposition leader Aburizal Bakrie to step down from the Golkar Party, allowing pro-Jokowi factional leaders to compete.
Interestingly, the President carefully chooses his aides and supporters by constraining his potential rivals from too much political power. The support for Setya Novanto shows that Jokowi prefers to promote and support the less ambitious leaders of Indonesia’s political parties. It is widely thought that Setya’s rival, Ade Komarudin, is an ambitious man, more so than Setya.
The latest reshuffle shows that Jokowi does not think twice about kicking out those who have ambitions of being president. The reshuffle of the highly popular Anies Baswedan seems to support this notion. Interestingly, Jokowi also cast aside Luhut by demoting him from a ministerial post.
“Jokowi is becoming a little uncomfortable of the outward perception of Luhut’s influence in the palace,” argued Eve.
Eve Warburton also notes that Jokowi has not relied solely on political party machines, but has instead built his own network. Jokowi has established a personal network with particular individuals, the so-called “loyal enablers”, who are wealthy, pro-business elites and former generals.
Rini Sumarno is an example. She held a pivotal role in Jokowi’s rise into the presidency and now guides the President in strategic thinking. Even though the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), of which Jokowi is a member, and the chairperson of the PDI-P, Megawati Soekarnoputri, hate Rini, Jokowi has refused to demote or isolate her from the corridors of power and has instead placed her in strategic posts.
However, this does not mean that Jokowi has broken the established patterns of power politics in Indonesia.
In his campaign, Jokowi promised to do things differently with a coalition tanpa syarat (unconditional alliances), meaning that he would not choose ministers on the basis of coalition or electoral support. However, Warburton argues that this attitude brings with it too much political risk. And now, the “the President has embraced established patterns of patronage politics” for the sake of stability.
A Cabinet member speaking to Warburton said “it is clear to [me] and other Cabinet members that Jokowi is just an ordinary politician.”
New Developmentalism: an echo of the past?
Since his presidential campaign, Jokowi has positioned himself as a leader who supports the poor, focusing on infrastructure and the development of rural areas.
Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) researcher Arya Fernandes argues that his welfare programs such as the Health Care and Social Security Agency (BPJS Kesehatan), the Workers Social Security Agency (BPJS Ketenagakerjaan), the Indonesia Health Card (Kartu Indonesia Sehat), the Indonesia Smart Card (KIP) and the Prosperous Family Card (KKS) have contributed significantly to his popularity.
Jokowi’s economic policies have been dubbed “new developmentalism”. New developmentalism encompasses a narrow form of economic progress in infrastructure, deregulation and de-bureaucratization.
“The new developmentalism agenda is where Jokowi’s passion is. New developmentalism demonstrates a renewed commitment to statist-nationalist ideology,” said Warburton.
Jokowi’s ideology is called statist because he often uses state intervention as a tool to accelerate development, and nationalist because he focuses on national building.
Jokowi believes the state should control strategic industries, particularly to ensure food security. He also tries to dictate to foreign investors, a contradiction of his wish for foreign investment to plug budget constraints surrounding infrastructure projects.
However, if there is a victim of the obsessive focus on infrastructure development, it is the President’s anti-corruption agenda. Eve suggests that “Jokowi appears now to subscribe to this idea that anti-corruption reforms are inefficient and that they hold back development.”
Warburton argues that Jokowi believes that “the criminalization of corruption slows down the bureaucracies and slows down progress in development and infrastructure.”
Jokowi’s attitude toward infrastructure seems revolutionary and pro-poor, attracting comparisons to Soeharto, the New Order autocrat.
Warburton highlighted some “rather uncanny similarities to Soeharto’s speeches in the late 1980s and 1990s, ones that focus specifically on deregulation and de-bureaucratization and emphasize the modernization of infrastructure and investment.”
Jokowi appears to be marketing himself as the next “Bapak Pembangunan” (Father of Development), a nickname given to former president Soeharto who left behind a legacy of infrastructure and debt.
More unsettling is the possible domination of national politics.
Jokowi has consolidated power through personal networks and political parties, and has managed to keep out those who could be potential rivals in 2019.
In the same session, Gadjah Mada University researcher Bayu Dardias talked about calon tunggal, or sole candidacy, as a new phenomenon in local elections. This phenomenon describes a situation where the incumbent is considered so strong that it is hopeless for others to even try competing with the incumbent.
Dardias, a PhD candidate in political science at ANU, raised the question of whether Jokowi would become a sole candidate in 2019, replaying episodes in Indonesia’s not-so-distant past where Soeharto would be the inevitable winner in every election.
“I don’t think so,” said Dardias. He argued there were figures with presidential ambitions, such as Prabowo and Wiranto, who could feasibly compete with Jokowi for the presidency. There are also capable and popular regional leaders such as Tri Rismaharini, or Risma, in Surabaya, Ridwan Kamil in Bandung, and Jakarta’s very own Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama. “Remember, Jokowi himself was just a local leader a few years ago,” said Dardias.
Indonesia Update is an annual conference that has been hosted by ANU for more than three decades. Aside from discussing the economic and political development in Indonesia, this year’s conference dissected the theme “Digital Indonesia: Challenges and Opportunities in the Digital Revolution.”