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Widodo reshuffles cabinet with eye on 2019 presidential contest

Golkar Party and the military get more clout in president's inner circle

The new Indonesian Social Services Minister Idrus Marham, left, greets the country's President Joko Widodo at the presidential palace in Jakarta on Jan. 17.   © Reuters

JAKARTA -- Indonesian President Joko Widodo reshuffled his cabinet on Wednesday, his third such change since taking office in October 2014, roping in senior members of his coalition and the military, in a move seen as an attempt to consolidate his support ahead of the presidential election in 2019.

Idrus Marham, secretary general of the Golkar Party, Indonesia's second-largest political party and a member of the ruling coalition, was appointed social services minister. He replaced Khofifah Indar Parawansa of the National Awakening Party, another coalition member, who is running for governor of East Java in June.

The replacement increases Golkar's influence in Widodo's cabinet, which includes Industry Minister Airlangga Hartarto, who became party chairman in December. The Social Services Ministry oversees channeling of aid to regions, a position seen as key ahead of 171 regional elections to be held in June.

"This is a big victory for Golkar," said Burhanuddin Muhtadi, executive director of pollster Indikator Politik Indonesia. "Golkar has declared support for Widodo in the next presidential elections, so [the appointment] will be insurance."

Widodo, the country's first president to come from outside the country's political elite, is backed by the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P.

The reshuffle comes at a time when Golkar's reputation is suffering. Its former chairman and former House Speaker Setya Novanto, was indicted by the Corruption Eradication Commission in December for his alleged role in a massive graft case. Hartarto replaced Novanto as chairman that month and pledged to reform the party's governance. Widodo's vote of confidence in Golkar will make it more loyal to his government.

Another Golkar politician, Bambang Soesatyo, was on Monday sworn in as the new speaker of the House of Representatives, helping to cement Widodo's support in parliament.

Widodo has also brought more former members of the military into his inner circle. Retired military commander Moeldoko was appointed as the new presidential chief of staff, while Agum Gumelar, a former general and defense minister, became a member of the Presidential Advisory Council.

Sabotaging Subianto

Some observers see the decision as an effort to slow the momentum of former Gen. Prabowo Subianto, who lost to Widodo in the 2014 election and is seen as the strongest contender in the 2019 presidential vote. Former Education Minister Anies Baswedan, who was backed by Subianto, won the Jakarta governor's seat last year after defeating a key Widodo ally, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama.

While Widodo has yet to declare his candidacy for a second term, he is favored to win, according to opinion polls. In an interview with the Nikkei Asian Review in December, Widodo said, "It's up to the people," whether or not he runs again.

The latest cabinet reshuffle is much smaller than the previous one in July 2016, which saw a sweeping change in key economic ministers. Observers see the latest change as politically driven and unlikely to affect economic policy much. Indonesia's benchmark stock index was little changed in early trading on Wednesday, while the rupiah was slightly weaker against the dollar.

Nikkei staff writer Bobby Nugroho in Jakarta contributed to this report.

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