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Jakarta Post

Rise of local dynasties

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, May 20, 2019   /   09:02 am
Rise of local dynasties President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo (second left, rear) and Vice President Jusuf Kalla (left) attend the 71st birthday celebration for Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) founder Megawati Soekarnoputri (second right) in Jakarta. Megawati's daughter and Coordinating Human Development and Culture Minister Puan Maharani was also present at the event. (Antara/Puspa Perwitasari)

It appears that for many, politics has become a family business.

At the national level, political dynasties are alive and well. Megawati Soekarnoputri, the daughter of Sukarno and now matriarch of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), is preparing her own daughter, Puan Maharani, to take up the mantle. Her rival, former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, is grooming his eldest son, Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, as a national leader.

Political dynasties are by no means uniquely Indonesian. The United States has the Bushes, the Clintons and the Kennedys. In neighboring countries such as Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore, scions of political dynasties are still making headlines in the media.

The rise of a political family is not necessarily bad and could even be considered something natural since families of popular politicians often get the same amount of public exposure and are therefore bestowed with the so-called “brand name advantage” to prevail in elections. But we have reasons to be concerned about the emergence of new political dynasties at the regional level.

The results of the 2019 general election have shown that dynastic politics remains potent in several regions, with spouses and relatives of local leaders predicted to win legislative seats.

In West Sumatra, the wives of two regional heads secured seats in the House of Representatives, while one obtained a seat in the provincial legislative council. They are Nevi Zuairina, the wife of West Sumatra Governor Irwan Prayitno, Lisda Hendrajoni, the wife of South Pesisir Regent Hendrajoni and Yunisra Syahiran, the wife of West Pasaman Regent Syahiran.

In East Nusa Tenggara, the wives of three regional heads also won legislative seats. They are Ratu Wulla, the wife of Southwest Sumba Regent Markus Dairo Talu and Kristiana Muki, the wife of North Central Timor Regent Raymundus Fernandes, both obtained House seats, while Hilda Manafe, the wife of Kupang Mayor Jefri Riwu Kore, obtained a seat in the Regional Representatives Council.

Analysts have said these legislative candidates won the election on the back of their spouses’ popularity and grassroots network. There is also suspicion that the influence of their spouses or relatives has enabled them to appear on the top of the candidate list on the ballot. This is bad for democracy as it would close the possibility of a better candidate prevailing. It is even worse if the spouses were elected legislative members of the same city or regency where their husbands or wives are mayors or regents.

In Banten, we have seen how a political family with a strong grip on the local political institutions could easily be drawn to corruption. Ratu Atut Chosiyah, the leader of a major political clan in the province, was convicted of graft along with her businessman brother, Tubagus Chaeri Wardana.

The rise of many new politicians gives us hope for a wider recruitment base beyond the dynasties. But in a bid to maintain control over resources, political parties favor stronger figures, including those from dynasties, regardless of their track records.