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Jakarta Post

Seeking rational choices on polygamy

  • Mohammad Zulfan Tadjoeddin

    The Jakarta Post

Sydney   /   Fri, February 7, 2014   /  10:44 am

The topic of polygamous marriage has recently featured highly in public discussions in Indonesia. This is evinced in the widespread coverage on the polygamous marriage of the leader of the Islamist Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), Anis Matta.

The coverage was triggered by his public appearance with his 28-year-old second wife from Hungary, when the couple jogged on a fine Sunday morning last December. One could say that Taman Suropati, the scene of their Sunday jog, has indeed become a highly political place.

Exposing the polygamous marriage of the party'€™s chairman seems to be part of the PKS'€™ political strategy for the upcoming election. But many view that as a blunder.

The main spokesperson for Anis'€™ second marriage is his close ally in the party, Fahri Hamzah, who made 500 tweets explaining Anis'€™ love story with the Hungarian lady.

Interestingly, while Fahri, a deputy secretary-general of the PKS, is a strong supporter and staunch defender of his leader'€™s polygamous marriage, he has openly declared that he will not follow his leader'€™s path.

It seems that the PKS has the highest prevalence of polygamous marriage among its party elites compared to other political parties.

The previous two chairmen of the PKS are well-known for their polygamous marriages. Polygamy has some dogmatic endorsement within the party; however, this issue remains very controversial.

What follows is a choice rational explanation of polygamous marriage.

In a recently organized academic symposium in Sydney, Nina Nurmila of State Islamic University (UIN) Bandung, whose PhD thesis was on polygamy in Indonesia, said that man is naturally polygamous.

Islam opens only an extremely narrow chance for a case of polygamous marriage. One could thus say that women naturally do not like polygamy.

It would be interesting to explain the opposing preferences of Anis and Fahri regarding polygamous marriage. Both are at a similar age and have been deeply involved in Islamic activism since a young age, and not only do they represent the same political party, but both are from the same faction within the party.

Answers for their divergent choices should be looked at from the perspective of structural differences between their first wives, despite similarities in terms of their background in the dakwah movement.

Anis'€™ first wife is a graduate of IKIP Jakarta (now Jakarta State University, UNJ) and is a qualified high school teacher. In Indonesia, the professional standing of this profession is not that high.

In 2006, when Anis married the 21-year-old Hungarian, Anis'€™ first wife had already given birth to seven children from 10 pregnancies. Now Anis has three children with his Hungarian wife, who shares the same roof with Anis'€™ first wife.

During the early part of Anis'€™ marriage with his first wife, they did not seem to be a wealthy couple. It is hard to imagine that his wife was able to fully develop her professional career. Her seven children were reportedly born during the first 12 years of their marriage.

Later on, after Anis was depicted as a wealthy politician wearing a Rolex watch, it was reported that his first wife managed an event organizing business.

In contrast, in his early 40s, Fahri seems to be a committed monogamist. He has only two children. He is married to a medical doctor who graduated from the University of Indonesia. His wife is now a surgeon specializing in oncology.

With only two children, life is much easier for Fahri'€™s wife to advance her medical training and career. After finishing her medical degree, she spent five years studying to be a surgeon and two more years to specialize in oncology.

Fahri'€™s first and only wife is a highly educated lady with a very high professional standing. Fahri has openly said that his wife'€™s monthly income as an oncologist is higher than his as a lawmaker.

The above illustration is of course anecdotal. However, it can be developed further into a testable hypothesis.

So how would one explain the incidence of polygamy? First, polygamy will officially only occur if the first wife does not demand a divorce after her husband takes a second wife.

Next, let us rule out the independent characteristics of men such as education, professional standing, political affiliation and religious leanings, as according to the scholar specializing in polygamy, '€œman is naturally polygamous'€.

This provides us with two seemingly more important factors to explain polygamy. Again, this is for the sake of simplicity as everything under the sun could possibly play a role. The first factor is the characteristics of the above wives.

Variables to consider include education or intellectuality, professional career standing, financial strength and the number of children. It is hypothesized that a wife with a lower level intellect, weaker professional career standing and financial position and higher number of children, is more vulnerable to experiencing a polygamous marriage.

The second factor is the financial and professional bargaining positions of a husband vis-à-vis his first wife. This is essentially related to the first factor.

Weaker bargaining positions of a wife would be associated with higher probability for her husband to take a second wife. Another factor could be the availability of women ready to serve as a second wife.

A country'€™s characteristics also matter. In Australia, for example, polygamous marriage is simply not feasible because of the nature of daily life in the Western world. Although polygamy has been quite popular among PKS party elites and members in Indonesia, it is not the case with PKS elites and members residing in Australia.

So, if we go back to the first and second factors, Anis Matta'€™s first wife could be considered a victim as she is at a higher risk of experiencing a polygamous marriage. Accepting polygamy would be her rational option vis-à-vis filing a divorce.

On the other hand, if Fahri Hamzah changes his mind and takes a second wife, his oncologist wife might ask for a divorce and, by default, he would remain a committed monogamist.

The author lives in Sydney, has a PhD in economics and is a committed monogamist.

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