Saturday, July 20, 2013

Indonesian Politics - Married with children

Keeping it in the family. Candidates from left to right: Tenri Olle Yasin Limpo: Older sister of Syahrul Yasin Limpo, Akbar Danu Indarta: Nephew of Syahrul Yasin Limpo; Son of Tenri Yasin Limpo, Irman Yasin Limpo: Younger brother of Yasin Limpo, Andi Ishak: Brother-in-law of Syahrul Yasin Limpo; Husband of Tenri Olle Limpo, Haris Yasin Limpo: Younger brother of Syahrul Yasin Limpo, Susilo MT Harahap: Brother-in-law of Syahrul Yasin Limpo; Husband of Ayunsri 'Uli' Harahap, Syahrul Yasin Limpo's younger sister.  (Michael Buehler)

The second round of direct elections for governors and district heads shows that democratisation is allowing powerful families to entrench themselves in local politics

After the decentralisation of political and fiscal power in 2001, local government heads have become some of the most powerful political players in Indonesia. Studying how these people get elected therefore offers considerable insight into the state of Indonesia’s democracy. It’s equally revealing to look at who is competing for power, and who is getting elected. Though local government is highly varied across Indonesia, there are plenty of worrying signs. In particular, local dynasties are becoming even more entrenched in power, not less, as Indonesian democratisation progresses.

In 2005, Indonesia introduced direct election for governors, district heads and mayors. Provinces, districts and municipalities began to hold such direct elections, called pilkada, for the first time in 2005 and for the second time in 2010. Some localities held direct elections for the first time in 2008 and are conducting pilkada for the second time throughout 2013. By the end of this year, all provinces, districts and municipalities will have conducted two rounds of direct elections for local government heads.

Over the past seven weeks, I traveled to every district and municipality in three provinces: West Java, Banten and South Sulawesi. My goal was to find out whether the pool of candidates competing for local executive office was very different this time around, compared to the first cycle of pilkada. To this end, I tried to collect the curriculum vitae that political hopefuls have to submit to the local election commission when officially registering as candidates. I also wanted to find out whether the outcomes of these second round elections are different from the first cycle. I therefore collected the official election results and also met with citizens, journalists, staff at local election commissions and government representatives.

Bureaucrats rule

A preliminary look at the approximately 600 CVs I managed to collect in the 59 districts and municipalities I visited shows that the majority of participants in the first pilkada (the ones conducted in 2005 and 2008) were bureaucrats. Bureaucrats also dominate the second cycle of pilkada conducted in 2010 and 2013. Entrepreneurs with business interests tied to the state such as construction company owners constitute the second largest group in both the first and second round. Party cadres and career politicians come in a distant third.

Things might not have changed a lot in this regard since 2005, but this still means that the composition of local powerholders is now quite different from what it was under Suharto’s New Order regime. Leaving aside one obvious similarity – the fact that women constitute a small minority among candidates competing in these races both before and after 1998 – the pool of candidates and winners during both the first and second rounds of pilkada looks rather different compared to the New Order. During Suharto’s 32-year reign, military personnel and national level civil servants, usually parachuted in from another province or district, constituted the majority of local government heads. Now, candidates with a military and police background are almost entirely absent in these races as are candidates from ‘outside’ a district. Candidates these days were usually born in the locality in which they compete for power. In other words, these are races, by and large, between ‘local boys.’

In addition, most of the bureaucrats competing in these elections have worked their way from the bottom up. This has become even more pronounced in the second cycle of pilkada. A ‘typical’ career of a candidate competing in the latest round of direct elections starts as a village head or with an entry level position in the local bureaucracy in the early 1980s. He then continues as a sub-district head (camat) through the 1990s. Various stints in higher echelon posts in the local bureaucracy follow towards the end of the New Order, from where he eventually makes a bid for the top executive post. Heads of the local Revenue Office (Dinas Pendapatan Daerah), the Public Works Office (Pekerjaan Umum), the Office of Staff Administration (Kepegawaian) as well as the post of District Secretary (Sekretaris Daerah) seem to be particularly common launching pads. Arguably, rent-seeking opportunities in such so-called ‘wet’ posts abound and may therefore allow office holders to amass the vast amounts of money they need to run as district head or mayor.

Furthermore, most winners in both the first round and second round pilkada continue to be bureaucrats. While businessmen seem to be catching up to bureaucrats in Banten and West Java province in the second election cycle in 2008 and 2013, civil society representatives, including members of non-governmental organisations, labor unionists, journalists and academics, almost never win these races. Nor do members of Islamist groups or peasants. Ironically, in the three provinces, all still dominated by agriculture, the only farmer I could find winning such a contest did so in a rapidly urbanising district. In 2012, Neneng Hasanah Yasin was elected bupati of Bekasi, where her parents are rich farmers in the Pebayuran sub-district.

Bureaucrats play such a dominant role in these elections because pilkada are such expensive affairs that ordinary Indonesians stand no chance of running as candidates. Even before they start campaigning, candidates normally have to pay parties several hundred thousand dollars just to get nominated. Institutional reforms aimed at curbing the costs of participating in these elections have failed. In the last revision of the Law on Regional Autonomy, for instance, candidates were allowed to run without the nomination of a party if they managed to collect a certain percentage of signatures from ordinary citizens. This reform has created a veritable business for political entrepreneurs. In West Java’s Garut district, a record number of 15 independent pairs of candidates have registered for the September 2013 elections. (‘Voters don’t trust parties these days and I therefore don’t want to be associated with any of them’, a candidate told me).

In Garut, I ran into what locals refer to as ‘EOs’ or ‘Event Organisers’. The EOs buy thousands of identity cards (KTP) and signatures in bulk by bribing officials at the local department of transport. In exchange for money, the officials hand over long lists of citizens who have registered their motorbike and car number plates. In South Sulawesi’s Sidrap district, the EOs I met bribed officials at the local tax office and the land certification agency to get their hands on the KTP and signatures of ordinary Indonesians. In both provinces, the EOs then sold these signatures to the candidate that made them the highest offer. So this reform, which was designed to provide ordinary citizens with a chance of standing for election, has also been turned into a vehicle for the rich.

In short, even after the second cycle of pilkada, Indonesia remains a top-heavy democracy at the subnational level. In fact, the range of participants from which Indonesian citizens can choose from has narrowed in many localities in the second pilkada cycle to a degree that surprised me.

A family affair

The rise of local clans first became visible during the first round of pilkada in 2005. It has become much more prominent during subsequent election cycles. The Ratu Atut family in Banten province and the Syahrul Yasin Limpo family in South Sulawesi are the two prime examples of clans that have taken advantage of elections to entrench themselves in local politics.

In 2006, Ratu Atut, was elected deputy governor of Banten province through direct elections. A few months later, she replaced governor Djoko Munandar after he was arrested for corruption. Atut won the second gubernatorial elections in 2012. Over the years, she used her prominent position at the provincial level to oversee her family’s expansion in politics. In 2008, Haerul Jaman, her younger brother, was elected deputy mayor in Serang City. He became the mayor in 2011 after the incumbent died. In 2010, Ratu Tatu Chasanah, the younger sister of Ratu Atut was elected deputy district head in Serang. A year later, in 2011, Heryani was elected deputy district head in Pandeglang. Heryani is Ratu Atut’s stepmother and the second wife (istri muda) of Chasan Sochib, Ratu Atut’s late father. Also in 2011, Airin Rachmi Diany was elected mayor of South Tangerang City. Diany is married to Heri Wardana a.k.a Wawan, the younger brother of Ratu Atut. In short, in less than ten years after the introduction of direct elections, the Atut family has managed to occupy the top executive posts in four out of eight districts in Banten province.

In South Sulawesi province, the Syahrul Yasin Limpo family has become almost as powerful as the Atut clan in Banten province. Syahrul Yasin Limpo was appointed district head in Gowa in 1994 and re-appointed in 1999. In 2003, the provincial parliament elected him as deputy governor of South Sulawesi province. Syahrul won the direct elections for governor in both 2007 and 2013. Syahrul’s younger brother, Ichsan Yasin Limpo a.k.a Ongkeng entered the South Sulawesi parliament as a member of Golkar in 1999 and won re-election in 2004. In 2005, he ran for district head of Gowa and won. Ichsan was re-elected in 2010.

Both the Ratu Atut and Syahrul Yasin Limpo used their strategic positions at the top of the local executive government to turn the state apparatus into a political machine. To support the political ambitions of other family members, department heads (kepala dinas), subdistrict heads (camat), village heads (lurah) and teachers (guru) in these provinces were mobilised prior to legislative elections, local newspapers reported. This strategy yielded impressive results. In Banten province, Ratu Atut’s husband, Hikmat Tomet was elected into the national parliament in 2009 for the Golkar party. Their first son, Andika Hazrumy, became a member of the Regional Representative Council (DPD) the same year.

In South Sulawesi province, the mother of Syahrul and Ichsan, Nurhayati Yasin Limpo, a Golkar legislator in South Sulawesi’s parliament from 1987 to 1999, won a seat in the national parliament in 1999 and was re-elected in 2004. Tenri Olle Limpo, Syahrul’s older sister, was elected head of parliament in Gowa in 1999 and 2004, each time on a Golkar party ticket. In 2009, she was elected into the provincial parliament. The same year, Syahrul’s daughter, Indira Chunda Syahrul a.k.a. Thita, was elected into the national parliament for the PAN party. Also in 2009, Syahrul’s younger brother Haris Yasin Limpo a.k.a. Nyanyang entered the parliament of Makassar city for the Golkar party to replace a legislator who had suddenly died after the elections. Finally, Syahrul’s nephew Adnan Puritcha won elections to the South Sulawesi parliament on a Democrat Party ticket in 2009.

The political influence of these two families is likely to expand further in the context of the upcoming 2014 elections. Several family members are trying to defend their legislative posts or to gain parliamentary seats at another level of government (these legislatures are known as the DPR at the national level, DPRD I at the provincial level, and DPRD II at the district level). Both families have also fielded several new relatives as candidates for both executive and legislative elections in the months ahead, as shown in the Tables below.
Banten Province 
Current Position (Party affiliation/ Year elected)
Past Position (Party affiliation/ Year elected)
Relation to Ratu Atut
Candidacy in upcoming election
Ratu Atut
Governor (2012) 
Deputy Governor (2006)

Haerul Jaman
Mayor Serang City
Deputy Mayor Serang City (2008)

Ratu Tatu Chasanah
Deputy District Head Serang (2011)


Deputy District Head Pandeglang (2011)


Airin Rachmi Diany
Mayor South Tangerang City (2011)


Hikmat Tomet
DPR RI (Golkar/ 2009)

DPR RI (Golkar/ 2014)
Andika Hazrumy
DPD (2009)

DPR RI (Golkar/ 2014)
Adde Rosi Khoerunnisa
Deputy head DPRD II Serang City (Golkar/ 2009

DPRD I Banten(Golkar/ 2014)
Andiara Aprilia Hikmat

DPD (2014)
Tanto Warbono Arban

DPRD I Banten (Golkar/ 2014)
Source: Author's own research based on interviews and local newspapers

Sulawesi Province
Current Position (Party affiliation/ Year elected)
Past Position (Party affiliation/ Year elected)
Relation to Syahrul Yasin Limpo
Candidacy in upcoming election
Syahrul Yasin Limpo
Governor (2013)
Governor (2007)

Ichsan ‘Ongkeng’ Yasin Limpo
District Head Gowa (2010)
District Head Gowa(2005)

Nurhayati Yasin Limpo

DPR RI (Golkar 2004)

Tenri Olle Limpo
DPRD I South Sulawesi (Golkar/ 2009)
DPRD II Gowa (Golkar/ 2004)
DPR South Sulawesi (Golkar/ 2014)
Haris ‘Nyanyang’ Yasin Limpo
DPRD II Makassar (Golkar/ 2009)

DPRD II Makassar (Golkar/ 2014)
Susilo ‘Silo’ MT Harahap

DPR RI (Golkar/ 2014)
Indira ‘Thita’ Chunda Syahrul
DPR RI (PAN/ 2009)

DPR RI (PAN/ 2009)
Adnan Puritcha
DPRD I South Sulawesi (PD/ 2009)
DPRD I South Sulawesi (Party/ 2004)
DPRD I South Sulawesi (Golkar 2014)
Irman ‘None’ Yasin Limpo

Mayor Makassar (2013)
Dewi Limpo

DPR RI (Hanura/ 2014)
Andi Ishak

DPRD II Gowa (Golkar/ 2014)
Akbar Danu Indarta

DPRD II Gowa (Golkar/ 2014)
Source: Author's own research based on interviews and local newspapers

 Emerging district dynasties

In all three provinces I visited, there are smaller families at the district level that try to emulate the political strategies of the two clans mentioned above. There are therefore similar patterns emerging from these elections. Three trends stand out.

First, at the district level, many families have managed stay in power across two executive election cycles. For example, in West Java province, Anna Sophanah won the 2010 pilkada in Indramayu district. Ever since, according to a local newspaper interview, she has worked tirelessly to implement the ‘vision’ that guided her husband Irianto MS Syafiuddin, a.k.a Yance while ruling Indramayu from 2000 to 2010. Yance was in turn much inspired by his father MI Syafuddin who had been the bupati of Indramayu from 1946 to 1948.

In Cimahi city, Mochtar Itoc Tochija, mayor from 2000 to 2012, managed to get his wife Atty Suharti Tochija elected in the October 2012 pilkada. In Banten province’s Tangerang district, Ismet Iskandar, who won the district head elections in 2003 and 2008, was pleased to see his son Zaki Iskandar win the election in 2013. Again in Banten, Iman Aryadi replaced his father Aat Syafa’at as mayor of Cilegon in 2010. Aat Syafa’at had been mayor of Cilegon from 2000 to 2010.

A second trend is that these lesser families are also trying to broaden their base to incorporate legislative posts at different levels of government. In Banten province, Mulyadi Jayabaya, bupati of Lebak and arch-rival of the Atut family, managed to have his daughter elected into the national parliament for PDIP in 2009. In Tangerang City, Abdul Syukur, the younger brother of the current mayor Wahidin Halim is heading the city parliament. In South Sulawesi’s Pangkep district, the brother-in-law of the current bupati was elected as the head of the district parliament in 2009.

Third, these smaller families also figure prominently in the candidate pool of future executive and legislative elections. In West Java’s Cirebon district, the outgoing bupati Dedi Supardi is sending his wife Sri Heviyana Supardi into the December 2013 pilkada. In Kuningan district, Utje Suganda is running for the September 2013 pilkada because she wants to ‘continue the development projects’ initiated by her husband Aang Hamid Suganda, who served as bupati from 2003 to 2013. In Banten province, Iti Octavia Jayabaya wants to replace her father Mulyadi Jayabaya as bupati of Lebak in August 2013. In Tangerang city, Abdul Syukur has plans to succeed his older brother Wahidin Halim as mayor in August 2013.

In South Sulawesi, Radjamilo won elections in 2003 and in 2008 as district head of Jeneponto. His son Anshari Faksirie Radjamilo wants to continue the family’s grip over the district executive office by running as a candidate in the September 2013 pilkada. Similarly, Apiaty Kamaluddin Amin Syam, the wife of Amin Syam, former South Sulawesi governor who lost the 2007 gubernatorial elections against Syahrul Yasin Limpo, is competing in the Makassar mayor elections in September 2013 against Irman Yasin Limpo, the current governor’s younger brother.
In Banten province, the aforementioned bupati of Lebak Mulyadi Jayabaya is sending his son, M. Hasbi Assidiqi Jayabaya, into the race for a seat in the national parliament in 2014 on behalf of the PDIP. The bupati of Pandeglang Erwan Kurtubi wants his wife Erna Nurhayati Kurtubi to win a seat in the provincial parliament next year for the Golkar party. The aforementioned mayor of Tangerang, Wahidin Halim, is sending his son Fadlin Akbar into the 2014 race for a Democrat Party seat in the national parliament. There are many similar examples in the three provinces.

From Sabang to Merauke

Direct elections for subnational executive heads have also become family affairs in provinces I did not visit. Due to space constraints I cannot list the almost 60 families I found that have entrenched themselves in local politics in the context of the second election cycle. However, the Pagalaram family in Lampung and the Sarundajang family in North Sulawesi are worth mentioning. They most closely resemble the Atut and Limpo clans to the extent that they succeeded in establishing themselves across government layers.

In Lampung, Sjachroedin Zainal Pagaralam was appointed governor in 2004 and won a second term in 2009 through direct elections. His son Rycko Menoza won a direct election as district head in South Lampung district in 2010. The governor’s second son, Handitya Narapati was elected as deputy district head in Pringsewu district in 2011.

In North Sulawesi, Ivan Sarundajang, the son of the current governor Sinyo Harry Sarundajang, was elected deputy district head in Minahasa in December 2012. Other offspring are running in upcoming legislative elections. Ivan’s sister, Vanda Sarundajang was elected to the national parliament in 2009 for the PDIP party; she will run again in 2014. His brother, the governor’s second son, Fabion Sarundajang, wants to represent North Sulawesi in the DPD between 2014 and 2019. The governor’s second daughter Eva Sarundajang plans to join her sister, running for the national parliament with the PDIP in April next year.

Family feuds

Being related to an incumbent does not guarantee success at the ballot box. In West Java province, Nani Rosada tried to succeed her husband Dede Rosada as mayor of Bandung in June 2013 but failed. Her husband had been declared a suspect by the Corruption Eradication Commission prior to the election, which swayed the urban voters of Bandung towards a more reformist candidate aligned with the mildly Islamist Prosperous Justice Party.

In most districts I visited, however, the dynasty building of families is mainly constrained by the influence of other families rather than because citizens are voting for ‘reform champions’. In Banten province, Irna Narulita tried to succeed her husband Dimyati Natakusuma as bupati of Pandeglang in 2010 but failed against Heryanti, who is governor Ratu Atut’s stepmother. Even the powerful Atut clan sometimes loses. The four districts in Banten province the Atut family has failed to colonise since direct elections for government heads were introduced in 2005 are Cilegon, Lebak, Tangerang and Tangerang City. In the first three districts, the smaller clans established by Aat Syafa’at, Mulyadi Jayabaya, and Izmet Iskandar respectively have become influential. These former bupati have managed to get their children to succeed them, at the expense of the candidates fielded by the Atut family. Meanwhile, the fourth locality, Tangerang City, is the stronghold of the Halim family that controls both the executive government through Wahidin Halim (bupati) and the legislative branch of local government through his younger brother Abdul Syukur (head of the local parliament). The Atut family failed to occupy the district because the two Halim brothers enjoy the protection of their older brother Nur Hassan Wirajuda, Indonesia’s foreign minister between 2001 and 2009.

Similarly, in South Sulawesi’s Bantaeng district, two members of the Solthan family ‘competed’ against one another into the 2008 pilkada race: the brothers Syahlan Solthan and Ibrahim Solthan. They both lost to a third candidate, much to the chagrin of their older brother Azikin Solthan, who had been bupati of Bantaeng from 1998 to 2008, and their father Andi Solthan, who had ruled the district from 1966 to 1978. The most recent blow to the family’s ego came when the son of Azikin Solthan, Ilham Azikin Solthan lost the elections for district head in April 2013. Finally, Nurul Jaman Syafrudin failed to continue her family’s hold over the district head office in Pangkep. Nurul lost the direct that were conducted after her husband and incumbent bupati Syafruddin Nur had died from a heart attack in 2010.

How to build an enduring dynasty

Why are some incumbents better at establishing dynasties than others in the context of democratisation? Several reasons seem to contribute to their success.

One important factor is heritage. Both the Atut and Limpo family have roots in their respective provinces that reach deep into the New Order period. Ratu Atut’s father, Chasan Sochib was born in Serang district in 1930. In 1967, he started to provide logistical support to the Siliwangi military division. In 1969, he founded the PT Sinar Ciomas Raya construction company, which today is one of the biggest contractors in the province, carrying out construction projects financed by the government as well as donor agencies such as the Asia Development Bank and the World Bank. Sochib also laid his hands on real estate, moved into tourism and profited from the privatisation of Krakatau Steel, one of the few industrial sites in the province. The family’s ‘silverback’ also became the director of the Banten branch of the Indonesian National Contractors Association (Gapensi), the head of the province’s Construction Business Development Committee (Lembaga Pengembangan Jasa Konstruksi) as well as head of the Regional Chamber of Commerce (Kadin). Despite Sochib’s death in 2011, the family holds a quasi-monopoly over these organisations until today.

In South Sulawesi, Yasin Limpo, the current governor’s father, was born in 1935 into an aristocratic family from Cikoang, a kingdom that lies in what has become the family stronghold of Gowa. Yasin Limpo started his professional career in the military and became a Lieutenant Colonel in 1967. After he ended his military career, he occupied various government posts, all of political importance. Limpo was district head in Gowa, Luwu, Majene and Maros for short periods. At one point, he even acted as the interim-governor of South Sulawesi province. Limpo also became very influential in the provincial Golkar party and used his various connections to establish businesses. Limpo, for instance, used army units under his command to acquire large plots of land in Gowa. The family owns considerable land in Bontonompo sub-district even after Yasin Limpo died in 2009.

Arguably, the aforementioned emerging dynasty in Lampung province is successful due to similar roots in the New Order. In Lampung, H. Zainal Abidin Pagaralam was the governor from 1966 to 1973. He was the father of current governor Sjachroedin Zainal Pagaralam and grandfather of Rycko Menoza, district head in South Lampung district, as well as Handitya Narapati, deputy district head in Pringsewu district.

A second factor is that holding strategic positions at different levels of government as well as in both executive and legislative branches of government seems to improve the chances of family electoral success. This is aptly shown in the case of Banten province. There, Ratu Atut’s husband, Hikmat Tomet became the head of the provincial Golkar party branch after he won a seat for the party in the legislative elections in 2009. He has used this position to ensure that all the family’s candidates were placed first in the Golkar list of candidates in the constituencies where they are running in the 2014 legislative elections. Since Indonesian citizens usually vote for top listed candidates, the Atut family is destined to expand its reach over Banten province in April next year.

The Limpos have had more difficulties in positioning family members for the 2014 legislative elections because they lack control over such a strategic position within the provincial Golkar party. The feud between the Limpo family and the Halid family in South Sulawesi over the past few years exemplifies the point that a presence across government layers boosts the chances of establishing an enduring dynasty.

Nurdin Halid is an old rival of the Limpo family and the patriarch of a vast South Sulawesi clan himself. In 2007, for instance, Nurdin Halid’s younger brother Rahman Nurdin unsuccessfully tried to run again Syahrul Limpo in the  gubernatorial elections. In early 2013, Rudiyanto Asapa, then bupati of Sinjai, mounted a bid against Syahrul Limpo in the gubernatorial elections. Rudiyanto Asapa is closely linked to the Halid clan since his son Setyo Gdhysta Asapa is married to Nurdin Halid’s daughter Andi Nurhilda Nurdin. Once again, the Halid family’s candidate lost against the Limpo clan. The Halid family keeps trying, however. In the mayoral elections in Makassar in September 2013, Kadir Halid, the twin brother of Rahman Nurdin, is competing against Irman Yasin Limpo, the younger brother of Syahrul Yasin Limpo.

In 2009, the national Golkar leadership appointed Nurdin Halid as the party’s Election Coordinator for Eastern Indonesia. The holder of this position approves Golkar candidates for both executive and legislative elections. Nurdin Halid has used his office to torpedo the political ambitions of the Limpo family. For instance, Tenri Olle Limpo, the older sister of Syahrul Limpo, planned to run as a candidate for the national parliament in 2014 on a Golkar party ticket. Nurdin Halid successfully blocked her candidacy. This upset Tenri Olle Limpo to such a degree that she had to be hospitalised for a few days. She is still running on a Golkar ticket in the 2014 elections but only for the provincial parliament.

Nurdin Halid also ensured that the electoral district for Susilo MT Harahap a.k.a. Silo, Syahrul Limpo’s brother-in-law, who is running for the Golkar party in 2014, was shifted from Pinrang district where the family has many allies, to the city of Makassar. Due to this maneuver, there will now be three Limpo family members running for three different parties for a seat in the national parliament in the same electoral district. Presumably, Nurdin Halid hopes that this will split the vote for the Limpo clan.

A third important consideration is that establishing a dynasty is often also a protection strategy: incumbents want to be succeeded by their family members in order to shield themselves and their ‘nearest and dearest’ from being jailed for corruption. Again, local dynasts need powerful allies at higher government levels for political protection. It is hardly a coincidence that not a single member of either the Atut or the Limpo clan, Indonesia’s two most successful but also most predatory local families, has ever gone to jail for corruption or any other crime. A counterexample is the case of Aat Syafa’at who was jailed in 2012 for ransacking the Cilegon city budget during his second term as mayor. He told a local newspaper that he had to steal all the money to pay the campaign of his son Iman Aryadi who succeeded him in 2010. Arguably, Syafa’at was arrested because his family’s power was confined to the local level.

Is there a better way?

The introduction of direct elections for local government heads has stirred up the pool of candidates profoundly since 2005. To the extent that almost all candidates competing against each other in these races are now locals and have also worked their way through the subnational bureaucracy from the bottom up, it is fair to say that pilkada have democratised local politics. These candidates would have stood little chance of being considered as local government heads during the Suharto dictatorship.

At the same time, their local roots and long exposure to the local state apparatus also explains why families are entrenching themselves in local politics. A draft law that would make it illegal for family members of incumbents to run in pilkada and which is currently being discussed in the national parliament is unlikely to have an impact on the deep sources of these dynasties’ power. Most locally powerful families will just install proxies to rule.

Overall, then, direct elections for local government heads have not had the positive outcomes many initially hoped for. Instead, they seem to have had the effect of rotating bureaucrats and businessmen through local government, with many of these people having roots in politics that stretch back decades. The rapidly consolidating power of political families is one sign of everything that is wrong with the system.

But is there a better alternative for Indonesia at this time? Probably not. Direct elections for local government heads might have a lot of problems, but they are likely the best of what is available. Think of the alternatives. A return to indirect elections via local parliaments would lessen the exposure of local elites to ordinary citizens. Local governments might become even less responsive to citizen demands. A return to an appointment system as practised during the New Order would entirely suspend the interaction between politicians and ordinary Indonesians at the local level, and would therefore be a serious setback to democracy. At this point, it looks like dynasties might be an unavoidable by-product of local democracy.

Michael Buehler ( is an Assistant Professor at Northern Illinois University.

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