Jokowi’s foes now want to be his friends. Will playing nice benefit Indonesia?
- After a divisive election, the country is crying out for new infrastructure, improved labour conditions and a revitalised manufacturing sector
- Co-opting Prabowo Subianto and allies into Joko Widodo’s coalition may help political stability and allow for focus on economic reforms. But there are downsides
Prabowo has not directly responded to overtures made by Jokowi’s aides. Neither has he conceded defeat although he did say he accepted the court verdict. But by telling supporters not to protest against the court decision, the chairman of the Gerindra party might be signalling that he “has indeed brokered an arrangement of sorts with the administration”, analyst Kevin O’Rourke wrote in the most recent issue of his Reformasi Weekly newsletter.
“Prabowo may be angling for rewards such as public offices for Gerindra figures that would be remunerative for the party,” O’Rourke said, adding Prabowo would need to be cautious to avoid criticism he was betraying his supporters for material gains.
Among the mainstream political parties that supported Prabowo, at least two are thought to be in discussions to switch allegiances.
Arya Fernandes, a researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party “appears certain to join” the pro-Jokowi coalition while the National Mandate Party “is having an internal debate between pro-government factions and pro-opposition factions”.
Fernandes said Gerindra was still weighing its options as it had “too many demands which are difficult for Jokowi to accept”. But Jokowi did not really need Prabowo and Gerindra, he added, as the president’s Indonesia Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and its coalition partners already commanded about 60 per cent of parliament seats.
Still, analysts agreed a crossover by opposition parties could ease the polarisation caused by April’s divisive election, which was marred by identity and religious politics.
Wisnu Wardana, an economist with Bank Danamon Indonesia said narrowing the productivity-pay gap – which represents the difference between how much productivity has grown in relation to wages – would make the country more attractive to investors, such as China, which is among the top three sources of foreign direct investment into the country.
“This would require massive political support, as it is potentially unpopular and affects average Indonesians in general,” he said.
Wisnu said FDI from China to Indonesia had shrunk from US$3.4 billion in 2017 to US$2.4 billion last year, with funds going into the corporate sector, retail and domestic high-end residential property, with the country continuing to be one of the archipelago’s major investors.
She said the focus should now be on revitalising the country’s manufacturing sector, which grew only about 4 per cent last year – below overall GDP growth of 5.17 per cent.
Still, widespread concerns remain among Jokowi’s supporters over bringing Prabowo and his allies into the ruling coalition. One worry is that patronage, rather than competency and professionalism, will shape Jokowi’s decisions in building his cabinet.
The president attempted to assuage these fears in an interview with the prominent Kompas newspaper on Monday, where he said: “What is important is that every ministry is filled by people who are experts in their respective fields. They [should] understand the problems in the field to the point where they could easily execute the respective programmes, [and] easily solve existing problems.”
Dodi Ambardi, a senior researcher at Indikator Politik Indonesia, a polling outfit, said having Prabowo in the cabinet risked the president being “bullied” as his long-time rival used to be “a strongman” in the military.
Co-opting Prabowo did not necessarily mean the former general’s party would automatically be more cooperative, either.
“It has often occurred that even though a party has entered into a ruling coalition, it could still be critical of the government. The only difference is that the criticism is not as loud,” said Ambardi.
O’ Rourke said rewarding Prabowo when he had refused to concede defeat would likely “neglect the need to assign proper accountability for the organisers and financers of the hired gangs that perpetrated violence [in May]”.
“These [arrests] are seen as an attack on Prabowo’s people. If he moves towards cooperation [with Jokowi], he would be seen as betraying the people who supported him,” Welsh said.
Philips Vermonte, executive director of the Centre for Strategic International Studies, agreed, saying Prabowo would be betraying his voters if he became part of Jokowi’s government.
“The people voted Prabowo because they did not like Jokowi. And if he joins Jokowi’s government, he would be betraying them,” he said.
“He should remain in the opposition as a healthy democracy needs a good opposition.”