After a tumultuous year of political feuds, conflicts and reconciliations, President Joko Widodo enters his second year in office with majority backing in parliament, as well as a long list of grievances from the Indonesian people. (AFP Photo/Presidential Palace)

One Year on: How Joko Tamed the Once-Hostile Red-White Coalition


OCTOBER 20, 2015

Jakarta. When President Joko Widodo came into office one year ago today, his Awesome Indonesia Coalition made up just 208 out of 560 seats at the House of Representatives, making his administration vulnerable to parliamentary intervention with many fearing that his key policies will be blocked.

The opposition Red and White Coalition (KMP) soon grabbed all the strategic posts inside the parliament, leaving virtually no position to members of  Joko's camp, the KIH. The latter even managed to pass key bills that would sustain or even increase their power.

But a year later, the table has turned and Joko's Awesome Indonesia Coalition last month earned a majority at the House by welcoming a new member, the National Mandate Party (PAN).

Analysts have widely credited this transformation to the seasoned, skilled and powerful team of lobbyists Joko has kept in his inner circle, as well as a few calculated moves by the president himself.

The KMP's downfall began last October when the United Development Party (PPP), the smallest party in the alliance, began to split into two camps: one led by a pro-government Muhammad Romahurmuziy and the other by pro-KMP Djan Faridz.

Joko's administration immediately recognized Romahurmuziy as the legitimate chairman of the PPP, prompting 33 PPP lawmakers at the House to pledge loyalty to Romahurmuziy and side with the government and leaving just six PPP lawmakers loyal to the Red-White Coalition.

The government's decision to recognize Romahurmuziy's reign was subsequently annulled by a Jakarta court and the party is still without a definitive leader. But that failed to dissuade the 33 PPP members from remaining in Joko's camp.

Even with 33 additional votes, Joko's ruling coalition was still a minority inside the parliament.

JG Infographic/Thatit Adiwanto

A similar rift also divided the Golkar Party, the biggest party inside the Red-White Coalition. Control over Golkar has been contested by pro-KMP incumbent chairman Aburizal Bakrie and a pro-government Agung Laksono since last November.

Still, the rivalry did not seem to have much impact on the power balance within the parliament. With the exception of a few who have publicly expressed their support for either Aburizal or Agung, the majority of the 91 Golkar lawmakers at the House chose to stay neutral in the dispute.

Despite failing to secure a majority, Joko seemed to have tamed the opposition bloc after he invited his former rival in the presidential race, Prabowo Subianto, chairman of the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) and the de facto leader of the Red-White Coalition, to meet him at the Bogor Palace just south of the capital in January.

Prabowo emerged out of the half-hour meeting giving praises and a military salute to Joko, calling Joko "a statesmen" and "a patriot."

The once critical and often aggressive stance shown by Red-White members softened after the meeting, with opposition politicians slowly moving away from criticizing Joko directly and turning their attention to his ministers instead.

But Prabowo's public show of support did not come until April, when he told Gerindra members that "the KMP is with you [Joko], we will support you and defend you," calling the president "a patriot who cares about the people of Indonesia."

Analysts recognized this gesture as the start of the Red-White's own undoing, pointing out that the coalition's power and influence have dwindled since adopting a more magnanimous approach to Joko's presidency.

Soon after, the Democratic Party — with 61 seats in the parliament — announced that it was never part of Prabowo's camp. The surprise move came as former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was seeking another term as party chairman. Yudhoyono's son Eddie, known as Ibas, even pleaded to Joko not to let the Democrats suffer the same rift as Golkar and the PPP.

Ibas's fears were unfounded as Yudhoyono emerged as the sole candidate at the Democratic party congress in May – where Joko was the guest of honor. Even afterwards – with the exception of a few rants on social media – Yudhoyono made repeated remarks on how the Democrats will support "all pro-people policies" issued by Joko's administration, while still emphasizing his wishes to stay out of the ruling coalition.

Resisting temptation to stay out of the Awesome Indonesia Coalition proved to be too great for some parties. From the day he announced his cabinet line up, Joko has been rewarding staunch supporters of his administration, including some prominent volunteers during his campaign, by giving them commissioner positions inside several state-owned enterprises.

Among those vying for seats inside the government is Golkar, which historically has never been in opposition since it was founded 51 years ago, an argument given by party stalwart Agung when he challenged Aburizal's reelection bid.

But it was the National Mandate Party (PAN) that — to the surprise of many politicians and pundits — announced it was leaving the Red-White Coalition to join Joko's alliance last month. With PAN controlling 48 seats in the parliament, the switch gives Awesome Indonesia 289 of the 560 seats at the House of Representatives, compared to the Red-White's 210.

This means that for the first time, Joko has majority backing in the parliament. Even if the Democratic Party  which has wavered between being part of the Red-White alliance and staying neutral rejoins the opposition, Prabowo's camp would still be outnumbered 289 to 271.

Lucius Karus, of the watchdog group Concerned Citizens for the Indonesian Legislature (Formappi), said PAN suffered a huge financial hit from last year’s election, when it nominated its then-chairman, Hatta Rajasa, as running mate to Joko’s opponent, Prabowo. Although denying that it was related to PAN's switch, Joko immediately offered the party's former chairman Soetrisno Bachir a top position inside the National Economics and Industry Committee (KEIN), an advisory body under the auspices of the Coordinating Ministry for Economics.

The Red-White Coalition has said it remains strong and united after PAN's departure, but Djayadi Hanan of Paramadina University said with the government set to expedite a host of ambitious infrastructure and development projects, political parties looking for a piece of the action will have little choice but to sidle up to the president.