A Family Business – Political Dynasties in Post-Suharto Indonesia

by indonotes

Decentralisation and elections have provided opportunities to establish and perpetuate regional political dynasties.

There was recently an interesting episode of the MetroTV current affairs  programme Mata Najwa on dynastic politics in contemporary Indonesia.[1] Najwa, the host, interviewed two couples where the husband had been Regent (bupati) then been succeeded by his wife. Each couple argued that the wife following the husband was the result of the will of the electorate. However, a democractic deficit was pretty apparent. For example Irianto MS Syafiuddin, former Regent in Indramayu, admitted to overseeing his wife’s activities

Najwa: ‘So you still fully control (mengontrol penuh) what Ibu Anna [the Regent] does?’

Irianto MS Syafiuddin : ‘Oh yes, [I] have to, because these things can have a negative affect on our family’.

He later went on to say that his wife is the Regent ‘formally’ but ‘as head of the family I also have to protect (menyelamatkan) my own family’. Moreover, Irianto MS Syafiuddin was not just succeeded by his wife. One of his children is a member of the DPRD, as is a nephew/niece.

In the middle of the programme there was a musical montage of Indonesian political dynasties (against the soundtrack of the cheery Tom Chapin song ‘Family Tree’) showing the family ties between prominent office holders in in more than half a dozen regions of Indonesia.

The topic rather caught my imagination so I started looking through online newspapers. There is quite a lot of material on the subject, particularly as the interlinking of family ties and politics is often linked to money politics.[2]

Perhaps the most spectacular of the regional family political networks is the family of the late Chasan Sochib in Banten. His daughter, Ratu Atut Chosiyah Governor is Governor of Banten and in March 2011 Tempo detailed the public offices held by her relatives as follows:

1. Hikmat Tomet (Atut’s husbans) DPR member 2009-2014.
2. Andika Hazrumy (Atut’s eldest child) DPD member 2009-14.
3. Adde Khairunnisa (Atut’s daughter in law) Representative in Serang  DPRD.
4. Tb Khaerul Zaman (Atut’s youger brother) Deputy mayor of Serang.
5. Ratu Tatu Chasanah (Atut’s younger sister) Served as vice-chairman of the Banten DPRD then became vice regent of Serang.
6. Aden Abdul Khaliq (Atut’s sister in law) Member of the Banten DPRD.
7. Airin Rachmi Diany (Atut’s sister in law) Mayor of South Tangerang.
8. Heryani (Atut’s stepmother) Vice-regent of Pandeglang.[3]

The rise and continued influence of the Chasan Sochib clan is a remarkable story in itself and is intertwined with the particular social and political make-up of West Java.[4] However, it seems it may be part of a more general trend for the interweaving of pribumi (i.e. non Chinese-Indonesian) business interests with elected office in what has been termed a ‘patrimonial oligarchic’ state.[5]

Whilst Indonesian politics at the moment certainly has oligarchic features, what makes it so interesting to me is the incredible complexity of the interellations between different elites and social groups. So how are these patterns at regional levels linking up with national level politics, and how do the army, religious elites and labour leaders fit in here? Lots of work is being done currently to try and answer those questions.

[1] http://www.metrotvnews.com/read/newsprograms/2012/06/06/12828/308/Kuasa-Gono-Gini (update 22.7.13 this link is now dead and as far as I can see MetroTV no longer have this episode online. If you are interested you might still be able to find it on YouTube)

[3] http://www.tempo.co/read/news/2011/03/10/178319170/Kerabat-Gubernur-Atut-Kuasai-Banten; a more extensive family tree can be found in the Nov-Dec edition of the Indonesian language journal Asasi, available at http://www.elsam.or.id/downloads/1292825285_asasi_edisi_November-Desember_2010.pdf p. 13.

[5] See Yuki Fukuoka ‘Politics, Business and the State in Post-Soeharto Indonesia’ in Contemporary Southeast Asia Vol 34, No. 1 April 2012 for the ‘patrimonial oligarchi state’; see http://news.detik.com/read/2011/09/12/145200/1723198/159/klan-atut-dari-jawara-beralih-ke-uang for a shift in Banten towards a more general money politics.