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Jokowi and a dream team Cabinet

Publication Date : 18-08-2014


The debate over whether an elected president should appoint politicians as Cabinet members as part of a power-sharing mechanism or appoint professionals instead to restore the presidential system of government has never subsided.

Indonesian presidents elected after 1998 tended to play it safe by accommodating political parties in their Cabinets because none of them were supported by a party that held an outright majority at the House of Representatives. The same goes for president-elect Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

However, it would be better if the controversy was brought to an end for several reasons.

First, the upcoming Jokowi administration will still need effective support from political parties. Undeniably, there have been comments that have belittled the role of political parties in Jokowi’s victory.

Even if these comments were true, eliminating political parties from Jokowi’s Cabinet would impede the way his government worked. So far, Jokowi is officially supported by parties that secured 207 House seats or nearly 37 per cent of the total number of legislative seats.

Worse, the newly passed law on legislatures will put Jokowi’s coalition at the House in jeopardy.

If Jokowi dares to exclude political party representatives from his Cabinet, the political dynamics in the House will change drastically, if not turn hostile. Many government plans will not work because the House will block them.

Hence, appreciation or payback for political parties that supported Jokowi’s presidential bid remains relevant.

Remember that Jokowi also needed endorsement from parties outside his Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) to meet the presidential threshold.

Second, there is no guarantee that corruption will vanish if the Cabinet is restricted to professionals.

History has taught us that a professional Cabinet is not immune from corruption.

Third, professionals who lead ministries do not necessarily fare better than politicians. There have been success stories of politicians who held ministerial posts.

Therefore, to generate a healthy public discourse it would be better if the debate was directed at standard requirements for a ministerial candidate. Such standards would help Jokowi select and appoint figures who suited the positions, regardless of their background.

There are several criteria that Jokowi needs to consider to select ministerial candidates, whether from coalition parties, volunteers or professionals.

First, the candidates should have good track records, which should include knowledge, experience and achievements. Thus, the hope of finding “the right man for the right job” will be fulfilled.

Second, the candidates should be known for their integrity, which includes a clean criminal record. For this reason, advice from the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) and the Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (PPATK) must be taken into consideration.

Third, the candidates should possess good interpersonal communication skills, not only in dealing with the bureaucracy but also the House and the media as representatives of the public.

On one hand, the ability to communicate will allow ministers to absorb public aspirations and on the other hand help them disseminate their programs among the public.

It is a relief that Jokowi has asked politicians appointed to ministerial jobs to relinquish their posts in their respective parties. This is a crucial step toward preventing the ministers from losing their focus because of their party commitments.

Jokowi may have learned from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, whose first and second terms in office were plagued by conflicts between state and party interests as a consequence of his appointment of politicians as Cabinet ministers. Worse, the coalition Yudhoyono built in the government did not transpire in the House.

But Jokowi should also maintain the post-reform conventions, such as the appointment of a civilian to the defense minister post to maintain civilian supremacy over the military.

All the post-reform presidents also took gender, tribal and regional representation into account in forming their Cabinets, which Jokowi should follow.

With the fast advancement of information technology, not to mention Jokowi’s enthusiasm for e-government, the upcoming Cabinet should work based on the Web 2.0 technology.

The use of IT will allow ministers, their staff and the entire bureaucracy to communicate, coordinate and collaborate better and faster.

At this point, openness and transparency related to the criteria of ministerial candidates being drafted by the transition team will be the first test for Jokowi.

The public has pinned high hopes on Jokowi to fulfill his campaign promises, including his pledge to pick only candidates who can work and implement his platform.

In the end, an option to form a working Cabinet should not be limited to the term zakenkabinet, or professional Cabinet, which means political compromise is a necessity for Jokowi.

(The writer is a political analyst at Digimed, a digital media consulting company based in Jakarta)


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