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Jakarta Post

Indonesianist Dwight King dies at 72

  • The Jakarta Post

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sat, September 12, 2015   /  04:07 pm

A prominent Indonesianist, Dwight Y. King, who was known for his seminal work on Indonesian elections and decentralization, died at the age of 72 on Friday in DeKalb county, Illinois, US after battling Parkinson'€™s disease for the past eight years.

King is survived by former wife Kathy, son Jonathan and daughter Sarah.

King, who earned his doctorate degree in political science from the University of Chicago, was one of the early generation of Indonesianists to study politics under the New Order regime in Indonesia.

His expertise included corporatism, decentralization and regional autonomy, which contributed to breaking new ground for sociopolitical study on Indonesia.

He also taught the country'€™s new generation of political scientists and helped lay the foundations for democracy and electoral politics. Three of his students, M. Ryaas Rasyid, Ramlan Surbakti and Andi Alfian Mallarangeng, were members of the Team of Seven tasked with drawing up the electoral laws soon after the demise of the New Order in 1999.

His other students who graduated from the political science department at the Northern Illinois University (NIU) included current Cultural and Education Minister Anies Baswedan, Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) head of the politics and international relations department Philips J. Vermonte and Populi Center chairman Nico Harjanto.

Some of the proposals made by the Team of Seven were accepted to become the legal foundation for the 1999 legislative election '€” the first free and fair election in the country after more than 50 years. King, however, refused to take much credit for his students'€™ contribution.

'€œI am glad that their exposure to literature on comparative politics probably changed their way of thinking,'€ said the Kansas native during an interview with The Jakarta Post in 2008.

He was known among his students for his humility as a professor. With his calm, low-key demeanor, it was hard to believe that King, a director of the NIU Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS) from 2005 to 2009, was once a rabble-rouser who took to the streets and spoke out against ill-conceived government policies on the Vietnam War.

His activism experience combined with deep political knowledge deeply influenced Anies.

'€œHe influenced me to keep my writing balanced. I was an activist and sometimes activism could yield biased analysis and insight. He often reminded me of this. Pak King is one of the academics whose journals are very objective,'€ Anies wrote in his book Melunasi Janji Kemerdekaan (Fulfilling Promises of Freedom).

To Philips, King was a true scholar who was reflective and humble. '€œHe didn'€™t rush in making conclusions. He could see a problem comprehensively and was patient about his students'€™ development. The way he led a discussion felt more like a colleague than a professor,'€ Philips, who enrolled at the NIU'€™s political science department between 2005 and 2011, told the Post.

Most of his students knew Pak King, as they called him, as a sports buff.

'€œHe was an active swimmer, tennis player and cyclist. His cycle mileage was higher than his car mileage. He was a cross country cyclist. It was a surprise when he got health problems,'€ Philips said.

King'€™s books and journals on Indonesia include Half-Hearted Reform: Electoral Institutions and the Struggle for Democracy in Indonesia, published in 2003, Bureaucracy and Implementation of Complex Tasks in Rapidly Developing States: Evidence from Indonesia, in 1996, The Political Economy of Forest Sector Reform in Indonesia in 1992, among others. (rbk)

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