Taking the Snake into the Grass
Ahead of the presidential inauguration, there was still no certainty on whether Gerindra would be joining the government. Probowo Subianto is allegedly eyeing the defense minister position.
THE People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) leaders originally visited Prabowo Subianto’s residence at Jalan Kertanegara, South Jakarta, on October 11, to send an invitation to the presidential inauguration. However, a chat between the host and his guests eventually drifted to a discussion of defense and security. Prabowo highlighted Indonesia’s role in global geopolitics, particularly in the face of an ever-expansive China.
Prabowo was enthusiastic when talking about the condition of the primary weaponry defense system (Alutsista). He mentioned the country’s aging equipments. The Gerindra Party General Chairman was also eager to discuss recent issues on security, including the upheaval in Wamena, Papua, in September. Prabowo is concerned that the exodus of non-natives from Papua could prove to be a liability for Indonesia in the future. “This weakens the security in Papua,” said MPR Deputy Speaker Fadel Muhammad, repeating Prabowo’s words, on October 17.
Issues of defense were once again brought to surface when Prabowo met with National Democratic (NasDem) Party General Chairman Surya Paloh and Golkar Party General Chairman Airlangga Hartarto, after the meeting with MPR leaders. Gerindra Secretary-General Ahmad Muzani said Prabowo discussed the topic because he understands that stability is the key to development. “It is also a prerequisite for a double-figure economic growth,” said Muzani. He refuted the suggestion that it was related to the defense minister duties, a position supposedly being eyed by the former commander of the Army’s Special Forces.
After competing hard in the last presidential election, relationship between Prabowo and Joko Widodo has been improving. Prabowo met Jokowi in at least two occasions. Most recently, ahead of the cabinet formation, he came to the Palace. “So, I said to him, we are ready to help if needed,” said Prabowo on October 11.
The offer to join the cabinet came out before Jokowi met with Prabowo at Lebak Bulus Mass Rapid Transit Station, Jakarta. At the time, a number of positions were offered to Gerindra. Among them, the agriculture minister position...
In front of his supporters in Hambalang, Bogor, on October 16, Prabowo gave hints that he would be joining the government by telling them a story about the peace made between the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, and his former rival, William Henry Seward. They competed in the 1860 presidential election. One time, it is said that Seward called Lincoln “ape.”
Quoting Prabowo’s speech that day, Gerindra politician Sandiaga Uno said that hostility between both men ceased when Lincoln was elected president. Lincoln then offered Seward to serve as secretary of state, the third most important position in the executive structure of the United States. Seward did not immediately accept the offer. Prabowo, according to Sandiaga, said that Lincoln and Steward were finally united by the one thing they have in common, and that was their love of the country. “Lincoln told Seward ‘I need one that is not just about whatever pleases the boss’,” said Prabowo to his cadres.
The offer to join the cabinet came out before Jokowi met with Prabowo at Lebak Bulus Mass Rapid Transit Station, Jakarta. At the time, a number of positions were offered to Gerindra. Among them, the agriculture minister position, which is said to be allocated for Gerindra Deputy Chairman Edhy Prabowo. Later on, after the riots in Papua, Gerindra is believed to be looking at the defense minister position, as well. A Gerindra politician said that the latter is being sought after by Prabowo himself.
The message was sent to Jokowi through mediators. At the end of September, said another Gerindra politician, the President sent an intelligence official to convey his gesture of agreement towards the request.
During a meeting with Democrat Party General Chairman Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on October 10, Jokowi asked why Prabowo was very interested to become defense minister. Yudhoyono and Prabowo are graduates of the Indonesian Military Academy. Both enrolled in 1970, but graduated at different times, Yudhoyono in 1973 while Prabowo a year later.
To journalists, Jokowi explained that the cabinet was one of the topics in his talk with Yudhoyono. Presidential Special Staffer for Communication Adita Irawati said she could not provide answer on matters related to the cabinet formation. “It is all in the hands of Pak Jokowi,” she said.
In a meeting with Prabowo the day after, Jokowi again discussed the cabinet formation. Meanwhile, Prabowo, according to a Gerindra politician, explained his concept on defense and agriculture. However, Jokowi made no mention about the defense minister position for Prabowo until the end of the talk. The guest also did not ask. After the meeting, Jokowi said that one topic of discussion was of the chances of Gerindra joining the government.
After meeting Airlangga, Prabowo did not give a definite answer to whether his party would join the cabinet. “Journalists know more,” he said. His spokesperson, Dahnil Anzar Simanjuntak, said Jokowi has accepted the concept proposed by Prabowo. This concept, according to Dahnil, is being adapted with government’s agenda for the next five years. “Right now, Prabowo is still focusing on whether Jokowi would welcome the proposed concept,” he said.
On the other hand, Gerindra Deputy Chairman Sufmi Dasco Ahmad rejected the opinion that his party is after the defense minister position. “We are not aiming at certain positions,” said Dasco.
Until Wednesday, October 16, Gerindra’s position in the cabinet remained unclear. The party is split into two camps. Sandiaga Uno said one camp wants Gerindra to join the government so that it may execute policies. The other wants the party to stay as opposition. Part of the reason, said Sandiaga, is to maintain Gerindra’s check and balances function toward the government. Another reason is that, “This stance would be appreciated by our supporters.” Sandiaga counts himself among the latter camp.
The uncertainty of Gerindra’s fate in Jokowi’s cabinet is reflected in a rhyming poem read by Ahmad Muzani after Gerindra national leadership meeting in Hambalang, last Wednesday.
Kain tipis dilipat empat (Thin cloth folded into four)
Disimpan rapi di dalam peti (Kept neatly in a chest)
Kita semua sudah berpendapat (We have all had our say)
Pak Prabowo akan ngomong ke Pak Jokowi (Mr. Prabowo will talk to Mr. Jokowi).