Special Report

Discourse: It will be a
disaster if a king, who
can do no wrong, is governor’

The special status of Yogyakarta province has become hot news after President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono issued a statement on a possible conflict between the monarchy and democracy. Senior political observer Ichlasul Amal of Yogyakarta-based Gadjah Mada University talked to The Jakarta Post’s Sri Wahyuni on the issue. Below is the excerpt of the interview.

Question: How do you see the monarchy issue?

Answer: Yogyakarta special status cannot be separated from the important role of Sultan Hamengkubuwono IX, king of Yogyakarta Palace, and Paku Alam VIII of Pakualaman castle in the establishment of the Republic of Indonesia. Hamengkubuwono IX co-founded the state. In such a position, it was very certain he would have said Yogyakarta was part of Indonesia. It was impossible for him to say the opposite. He did say so. This was later followed by other smaller kingdoms, which also declared that they were part of Indonesia.

His role in the government was unquestionable. He even spent most of his life in Jakarta to serve the country, as minister several times and later as vice president.

Are you saying that the status is not automatically passed on?

Yes. I think the incumbent sultan must understand his position and role are not the same as that of his father’s. In reality, the incumbent sultan serves two consecutive terms as governor through elections in the provincial legislative council.

So, what is the meaning of Yogyakarta special status now?

It is the name of a province. Only in Yogyakarta, we have a sultan who has a kind of right to control the activity of the provincial administration. That is what is special about Yogyakarta.

Considering these pros and cons on the special status, what would be a desirable solution?

There must be a clear formulation regarding the term penetapan [appointment of the governor and deputy governor] in the bill on Yogyakarta special status.

If the appointment means a governor and deputy governor are appointed every five years, as in the previous election in the provincial legislature although there was only a single pair of candidates, it is OK.

But, it is impossible to have the Sultan and Paku Alam, and later their heirs, appointed for the rest of their lives. This is what is called a monarchy in which the governor and vice governor posts are passed on from generation to generation.

I cannot imagine how we would stipulate it in a law. We cannot have it if appointment means that the sultan is the ex-officio governor and vice versa. That is not good for the administration.

If that is the case, how would you position the palace on the province’s political map?

The sultan will remain the ruler of Yogyakarta Palace while the provincial administration will be run by an elected governor, whose candidacy must gain approval from the sultan. Those who do not obtain the approval cannot go on with their candidacy in the election.

This was what we, lecturers of political sciences at the UGM, once proposed as a solution. Regarding this concept, the sultan can also play as controller on how the provincial administration is run. For example, he can veto a program that he sees as not in accordance with the local culture. But this does not mean that all programs have to be approved first by the sultan.

What is the advantage of such a system if applied?

With the current system, we have a democracy. We have the legislative council whose position is at the same level as the governor. When the sultan is also the governor, he is placed in a position where he is a target of criticism.

In fact as a king, he can do no wrong. Thus, it will be a disaster if a king, who can do no wrong, is governor. How can the councilors criticize the governor? How will provincial administration staff criticize him? It would be as if they were getting mad at their own king.

This is what we have been witnessing. We don’t want our king treated that way, but as governor, he has to ready himself to be treated that way. This accounts for why the bureaucracy at the provincial administration does not run normally. There has been some kind of obstacle.

The idea that the UGM once proposed, therefore, is trying to protect the nobility of the sultan and the royal family from the impact of practical political interests. It does not reduce a bit of the palace’s

There has also been a call for a referendum to decide on the special status of Yogyakarta. Your comment?

It is impossible to have it. “Referendum” is a very sensitive word in the history of Indonesian politics. Those who understand the country’s state administrative matter will say that it is nonsense.

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