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Jakarta Post

Observations on Indonesia'€™s changing democracy

  • Emke de Vries

    The Jakarta Post

Amsterdam   /   Wed, September 16, 2015   /  04:10 pm
Observations on Indonesia'€™s changing democracy March on: Victims of the Lapindo mudflow are seen in a rally in Jakarta in 2007.(Courtesy of Fridus Steijlen/KITLV)" height="336" border="0" width="511">March on: Victims of the Lapindo mudflow are seen in a rally in Jakarta in 2007.(Courtesy of Fridus Steijlen/KITLV)

A different kind of politics seems to be rising in Indonesia, with a decrease in clientelism in areas where civil society is quite free like big cities in Java.

The opinion came from Ward Berenschot, a postdoctoral researcher conducting research on the relationship between clientelism and citizenship in Indonesia.

“Politicians have a political career because of the programs they create, such as Jokowi with the Kartu Sehat [Indonesia Health Card] or Rismaharini in Surabaya.

“They can do this because of the support of civil society,” he said, referring to President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Surabaya Mayor Tri Rismaharini, respectively.

Berenschot is co-coordinating a four-year long research project called “From Clients to Citizens”, that started in 2012 and will run until 2016, together with Gerry van Klinken.

The collaboration between KITLV, Gadjah Mada University, the University of Amsterdam and Leiden University was initiated by Henk Schulte Nordholt and funded by The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) and the Indonesian Culture and Education Ministry.

The project — with research to be compiled into a book about citizenship in Indonesia — tries to capture Indonesia’s changing democracy with seven sub-studies: citizenship, birth rights, village leadership, land rights and conflicts, Islam and social media.

The researcher explains clientelism as the exchange of personal favors for electoral support.

“In the case of Jokowi, it seems as though he is paying back his support to other politicians, which is costing him a lot of popularity and damage now.”

Researchers Ward Berenschot (right) and Willem van der Muur.(Emke de Vries)Researchers Ward Berenschot (right) and Willem van der Muur.(Emke de Vries)

The meaning of the concept citizenship — which Berenschot explains as the relationship between the state and its citizens — has always been associated with Western democracies and states but in Indonesia, it has a different meaning.

 â€œIn Indonesia, people are more loyal to their own family, friends or ethnic group and feel less responsible for society as a whole, same goes for politicians,” he said.

“This is postcolonial citizenship. Countries such as Indonesia had their state forced upon them. With this research we wanted to find out what happens in the attitude of citizens toward the state now that society is changing. Is citizenship taking another form?”

For his own research project, Berenschot worked with a team of 35 researchers, all teachers at Indonesian universities, who conducted research in 38 districts in Indonesia and interviewed local political observers, with the use of surveys, asking them to rate the level of clientelism from one to 10.

“The score is lower in Java because the economy is less dependent on budgets and regulations of the government. The highest score is in Kupang [East Nusa Tenggara], there is almost nothing but the government, so it is very dependent on it, civil society is less free. Also in Kalimantan, where there is a lot of mining and plantations that lean strongly on the government, civil society is not free.”

Retna Hanani, one of the Indonesian researchers of the project, carried out research in two lower-middle-income kampungs in Jakarta and investigated the implementation and perceptions of health care since the introduction of direct elections in 2005.

Politicians started promising free health care and education, which was popular politics, she explained. “It helped them get elected. Provinces such as Aceh and Jakarta then put a lot of money in health care and I researched how this affected the notion of citizenship for the urban poor.”

Retna concludes that citizens are talking more about rights now, but the realization of this has not yet been fulfilled.

“People still need to line up at a local hospital, from 5 a.m. in the morning, to get service at 10 a.m. and then queue the rest of the day to get medicine. But they see citizenship and rights different now; the question is now about your entitlement as a citizen of Indonesia.”

Prio Sambodho, another researcher of the project, conducted research at the village level in West Java.

“My key point is that the interaction of the villagers is always through mediators, through local leaders,” he explains.

“Also people who have a health card are often uncomfortable with going or don’t trusty the bureaucracy, so they use the local elites to arrange administrative things.”

Campaign trail: Residents are seen during a mayoral election campaign in Ternate, North Maluku in 2010.(Courtesy of Fridus Steijlen/KITLV)

March on: Victims of the Lapindo mudflow are seen in a rally in Jakarta in 2007.(Courtesy of Fridus Steijlen/KITLV)

A different kind of politics seems to be rising in Indonesia, with a decrease in clientelism in areas where civil society is quite free like big cities in Java.

The opinion came from Ward Berenschot, a postdoctoral researcher conducting research on the relationship between clientelism and citizenship in Indonesia.

'€œPoliticians have a political career because of the programs they create, such as Jokowi with the Kartu Sehat [Indonesia Health Card] or Rismaharini in Surabaya.

'€œThey can do this because of the support of civil society,'€ he said, referring to President Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo and Surabaya Mayor Tri Rismaharini, respectively.

Berenschot is co-coordinating a four-year long research project called '€œFrom Clients to Citizens'€, that started in 2012 and will run until 2016, together with Gerry van Klinken.

The collaboration between KITLV, Gadjah Mada University, the University of Amsterdam and Leiden University was initiated by Henk Schulte Nordholt and funded by The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) and the Indonesian Culture and Education Ministry.

The project '€” with research to be compiled into a book about citizenship in Indonesia '€” tries to capture Indonesia'€™s changing democracy with seven sub-studies: citizenship, birth rights, village leadership, land rights and conflicts, Islam and social media.

The researcher explains clientelism as the exchange of personal favors for electoral support.

'€œIn the case of Jokowi, it seems as though he is paying back his support to other politicians, which is costing him a lot of popularity and damage now.'€

Researchers Ward Berenschot (right) and Willem van der Muur.(Emke de Vries)Researchers Ward Berenschot (right) and Willem van der Muur.(Emke de Vries)

The meaning of the concept citizenship '€” which Berenschot explains as the relationship between the state and its citizens '€” has always been associated with Western democracies and states but in Indonesia, it has a different meaning.

 '€œIn Indonesia, people are more loyal to their own family, friends or ethnic group and feel less responsible for society as a whole, same goes for politicians,'€ he said.

'€œThis is postcolonial citizenship. Countries such as Indonesia had their state forced upon them. With this research we wanted to find out what happens in the attitude of citizens toward the state now that society is changing. Is citizenship taking another form?'€

For his own research project, Berenschot worked with a team of 35 researchers, all teachers at Indonesian universities, who conducted research in 38 districts in Indonesia and interviewed local political observers, with the use of surveys, asking them to rate the level of clientelism from one to 10.

'€œThe score is lower in Java because the economy is less dependent on budgets and regulations of the government. The highest score is in Kupang [East Nusa Tenggara], there is almost nothing but the government, so it is very dependent on it, civil society is less free. Also in Kalimantan, where there is a lot of mining and plantations that lean strongly on the government, civil society is not free.'€

Retna Hanani, one of the Indonesian researchers of the project, carried out research in two lower-middle-income kampungs in Jakarta and investigated the implementation and perceptions of health care since the introduction of direct elections in 2005.

Politicians started promising free health care and education, which was popular politics, she explained. '€œIt helped them get elected. Provinces such as Aceh and Jakarta then put a lot of money in health care and I researched how this affected the notion of citizenship for the urban poor.'€

Retna concludes that citizens are talking more about rights now, but the realization of this has not yet been fulfilled.

'€œPeople still need to line up at a local hospital, from 5 a.m. in the morning, to get service at 10 a.m. and then queue the rest of the day to get medicine. But they see citizenship and rights different now; the question is now about your entitlement as a citizen of Indonesia.'€

Prio Sambodho, another researcher of the project, conducted research at the village level in West Java.

'€œMy key point is that the interaction of the villagers is always through mediators, through local leaders,'€ he explains.

'€œAlso people who have a health card are often uncomfortable with going or don'€™t trusty the bureaucracy, so they use the local elites to arrange administrative things.'€

Campaign trail: Residents are seen during a mayoral election campaign in Ternate, North Maluku in 2010.(Courtesy of Fridus Steijlen/KITLV)Campaign trail: Residents are seen during a mayoral election campaign in Ternate, North Maluku in 2010.(Courtesy of Fridus Steijlen/KITLV)

For the researchers, citizenship also has to do with the predictability of the state and guarantee of their rights, and according to Hanani this is currently shifting from privilege to right.

'€œJokowi was talking about a mental revolution, revolusi mental. But mentality can only change if the context is changing as well,'€ Sambodho said.

Willem van der Muur is obtaining his doctoral in law and focuses on indigenous rights with his research project, for which he conducted research in South Sulawesi and some other areas such as Sumatra and Central Kalimantan.

He explained that during the era of former president Soeharto, plenty of land was taken from rural inhabitants, who had little means to protest such measures.

Nowadays more people are mobilizing themselves in local and national organizations to claim back their land, called adat claims, a word that goes back to colonial times.

'€œMore and more rules are coming into being and indigenous communities are getting more rights. One of the most important changes is a recent court ruling that stated that if a forest is acknowledged as an adat forest it is no longer part of the state. However, in reality there is not much recognition of this,'€ der Muur said.

Another conclusion made from his research is that locals often blamed companies, but did not go directly against the government or district heads.

'€œThis shows that Indonesian citizens do not demand their rights directly, but will be friendly, because in their experience that will work better. The commitment of citizens to their personal relations and contacts is way stronger than toward the state,'€ Berenschot explains.

'€œRights in Indonesia are more dependent on the quality of your social relations or the people that are willing to help you. It'€™s a mediated citizenship that goes through other relations. The law is something that is used to strengthen negotiations, just like how having influential contacts can strengthen that.'€