With carrot, sticks, Jokowi survives house Bullying

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In his first audience with 34 governors on Nov. 4, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo openly shared his optimism on his ability to create strong leadership despite the absence of support from a majority in the House of Representatives.

“All of my overseas guests and investors have told me about their concerns over increasing political tension against my government,” Jokowi, who was inaugurated two weeks earlier, said.

“I want to tell you all that we shouldn’t be worried too much about that. What is happening in the House is just a normal political dynamic.”

Despite his narrow victory in the 2014 presidential election, Jokowi, who secured 53.2 percent of votes, lost House majority after five political parties remained faithful to defeated presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto.

The Golkar Party, the Gerindra Party, the United Development Party (PPP), the National Mandate Party (PAN) and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) sealed their alliance under the Red-and-White Coalition weeks prior to Jokowi’s presidential inauguration on Oct. 20.

While the opposition coalition controls 52 percent out of the 560 House seats, only four political parties support Jokowi’s ruling Great Indonesia Coalition. They comprise the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the National Awakening Party (PKB), the NasDem Party and the Hanura Party.

Former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party is the only party that remains neutral with just 10.8 percent of seats.

Concern was rife during Jokowi’s early days in office that his administration would face difficulties in passing reforms due to the stiff stance displayed by the opposition.

Prabowo’s younger brother and Gerindra co-founder Hashim Djojohadikusumo has warned Jokowi that his coalition will block Jokowi’s preferences for many key government positions that require endorsement from the House, such as the National Police chief, Supreme Court justices and the Indonesian Military (TNI) commander.

The coalition also warned last year that it would not pass Jokowi’s revised 2015 state budget.

Led by Golkar chairman Aburizal Bakrie, the Red-and-White Coalition seemed to have easily paved the way to becoming a major political hurdle for Jokowi after teaming up with the Democratic Party to defeat the ruling coalition in two separate races for the leadership of the House and the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR).

Despite the ruling coalition’s failure to exert control in the House, Jokowi has repeatedly suggested that he will not succumb to political bullying while at the same time insisting that the domination of the opposition in the legislative body will not substantially hamper the performance of his newly formed administration.

And it took only a few months for the former Jakarta governor to prove his words.

Soon after its early display of force, the Red-and-White Coalition found itself on the verge of breaking apart following an escalating leadership dispute within Golkar and the PPP, respectively the biggest and the smallest political parties in the coalition.

The parties are torn between two opposing factions — one insists on staying on the opposition side while the other pushes to join the ruling coalition.

Although the government’s alleged role in engineering such a dispute was difficult to prove, its intervention into the conflict was evident after newly appointed Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna H. Laoly issued in late October a decree that recognized the chairmanship of pro-government PPP figure Muhammad Romahurmuziy.

The decree, however, was annulled several days later following an order from the Jakarta State Administrative Court (PTUN) as a response to a legal appeal made by the PPP’s other faction, led by former public housing minister Djan Faridz.

The infighting in the PPP remains as both factions are waiting for a court settlement next month.

Apart from political intervention, the government has also employed state instruments, including the Attorney General’s Office (AGO), to put pressure on members of the opposition camp. Jokowi installed a NasDem politician as the attorney general in December.

The AGO, for instance, arrested the head of Golkar’s West Java chapter, Irianto MS Syafiuddin, or Yance, for his alleged role in graft when he was Indramayu regent.

Yance was arrested the day after Golkar concluded its national congress in Bali, which mandated Aburizal to lead Golkar for another five-year term.

People’s Synergy for Democracy in Indonesia (Sigma) political analyst Said Salahuddin said such a legal approach had provided Jokowi with much better political leverage than his opposition.

“By using state instruments to put pressure on his opponents, Jokowi has successfully sent a warning to the House to not mess around with him,” he said.

Aside from taking harsh measures, Jokowi has also facilitated concessions for opposition leaders.

The government, for example, has recently provided a Rp 781 billion (US$62 million) loan to help the Bakrie family provide compensation to the thousands of victims of the Sidoarjo mudflow disaster in East Java. The disaster has been cited to have been triggered by drilling activities carried out by a Bakrie-affiliated company.

“The loan will inevitably bring political consequences for Golkar. There are expectations that the party will influence the Red-and-White Coalition to tone down criticism on Jokowi’s major policies, like the recent fuel-subsidy cut, and on the ongoing revision of the state budget,” Agung Baskoro of the Poltracking Institute said.

Aburizal has since been caught visiting the Presidential Palace several times to meet Jokowi and Presidential chief of staff Luhut Panjaitan, a senior Golkar politician.

The concession has also halted attempts by the opposition to exercise its inquiry rights into the government’s fuel-price increase in November as it claimed the increase had hurt the poor. The plot has received no substantial follow-up until today.

The opposition camp has also surprisingly shared a similar stance to the ruling coalition in supporting Jokowi’s controversial nomination of Comr. Gen Budi Gunawan as the next National Police chief despite his status as a graft suspect.

During a plenary session held earlier this month, all House factions, excluding the Democratic Party, gave a political nod to Budi’s nomination despite calls from antigraft activists for Jokowi to retract the nomination.

PAN lawmaker and deputy secretary-general Teguh Juwarno admitted that it was unlikely that members of the Red-and-White Coalition would stay on the opposition side because of the different political interests of party members.

“After securing leadership positions in the House and in the MPR, we practically have no other common goal to stay together as an alliance,” Teguh said recently.

“Consequently, our next political cooperation, if any, will be largely determined by pragmatic motives.”

PAN’s support on a dynamic, issue-based alliance will practically resemble the strategy employed by the Democratic Party, which has so far helped the party gain substantial political influence despite its position as the country’s fourth-largest party.

Having jointly secured the House and MPR leaderships with the Red-and-White Coalition, the Democratic Party quickly jumped ship to support the ruling government following Golkar’s announcement in support of the abolishment of direct regional elections. The House unanimously passed a bill in support of the elections last week.

All House factions, aside from the Democratic Party, have also stayed behind Jokowi as he refuses to defend the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) against attempts by the National Police to undermine the agency after it declared Budi a graft suspect.

Even Prabowo and Hashim, staunch critics of Jokowi in his early days, are no longer signaling their opposition after Prabowo was seen visiting Vice President Jusuf Kalla and Luhut several times.

“After seeing how the President exercised his judicial and political authority to numb the opposition leaders, there is less worry of turmoil in the relationship between the government and the House. A full-fledged opposition is very unlikely in the near future,” Said said. –

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