Autonomy has revived feudalism in Yogyakarta

Sri Wahyuni, The Jakarta Post, Yogyakarta
National News – December 26, 2003

The implementation of Law No. 22/1999 on regional administrations has brought many changes, particularly in Yogyakarta, including some degree of transparency in both the provincial and district administrations as well as in the local legislative council.
The changes are, to a great extent, due to people’s increased participation and vigilance in monitoring how local government officials and legislative council members are carrying out their duties.
The implementation of the law, also called the regional autonomy law, however, has also sparked quite a bit of debate on exactly which entity should make decisions — the provincial government level or regental administrations? Since the law clearly stipulates that the autonomy rests on the regental administrations, the special autonomy has created certain problems for small provinces like Yogyakarta.
“In some cases, it creates conflicts and tension over the authority of the provincial government and regental administrations respectively,” says regional autonomy expert Ari Dwipayana of Gadjah Mada University.
According to Ari, a lack of a clear distribution of authority between the district, provincial and central governments further worsens the condition.
For Yogyakarta, the emergence of such conflicts can be seen, especially in the management of certain assets and natural resources like the Kaliurang holiday resort in Sleman regency or a production forest in Gunungkidul regency. Regental administrations and the provincial government have been at loggerheads over precisely which administration is in charge of those assets — and of course who gets the profits.
Similar tensions also occur when regency administrations and the provincial administration pass on the responsibility of managing the so-called social houses — which make no profit — and then their is the uncertain fate of some 3,000 civil servants who previously were taken care of by either the central or provincial government offices but now have become employees of the regency.
“It is in some ways fortunate that we have a cultural entity that has the capability of preventing such tension from coming out into the open,” Ari explains, referring to the position of the provincial government and Yogyakarta Palace in which the Sultan is also the governor.
The Sultan still practices the custom of awarding a traditional spear to each regent and mayor in his jurisdiction as a symbol of authority. To some extent, in this particular case, the governor/sultan helps reduce tension.
“Still, it doesn’t mean that conflicts of authority do not exist,” Ari says, emphasizing the need for the central government to provide a clear distribution of authority between the provincial and regental governments.
There are of course other problems in implementing the law on regional autonomy including possible conflicts between local government officials and councillors both at the provincial and regental levels.
The most obvious of all these is regarding the unclear position of Yogyakarta’s Special Status in the context of regional autonomy.
There are at least three things that should be taken into consideration when talking about the province’s special status and they are the district-based autonomy, the relationship between the Palace as a traditional entity vis a vis the provincial government and legislative councils, and the land regulation especially regarding the so-called Sultan’s Ground.
With regards to autonomy, Yogyakarta provincial councillors are mostly in favor of placing the autonomy on the provincial level regardless of the fact that the law on regional autonomy stipulates a regency-based autonomy.
They argue that the fact that the province is relatively small, concentrating the power at the regency level has the potential of creating unhealthy competition among regental governments. This is due to the fact that each regency has a different starting point of development. Sleman regency and Yogyakarta municipality are generally considered as more developed than the other three regencies of Kulonprogo, Bantul, and Gunungkidul.
“We believe that by concentrating the autonomy at the provincial level, the wealth can be more evenly distributed among the four regencies and municipality,” councillor Imam Samroni of the provincial legislature says.
In terms of the ideal relationship between the Palace and modern political entities, Ari calls for the separation of the Palace from the province’s day-to-day politics to prevent a possible power struggle between traditional politics and modern politics, which, according to him, are manipulative and tend to corrupt.
The special status, according to Ari, should not be defined based on history but on what the people want for the future. The essence of the special status, according to Ari, is not on the fact that the governor is of the royal lineage of the Palace, but rather on how the Palace contributes to modern politics.
Article 122 of Law No. 22/1999 stipulates that the Yogyakarta governor and vice-governor are elected by taking into account the lineage of the Yogyakarta Palace and the Pakualaman Principality. The stipulation, however, created tension in the last gubernatorial election that ended up with the governor being appointed, instead of elected by the people.
For the sake of democracy, such a practice should not be allowed to occur. Many would probably agree to consider the present situation as a transitional phase. However, in the near future a democratic election should be conducted while accommodating the Palace’s interest in symbolic forms to create a meeting point between democratic and traditional values.
“The Palace can play a very important role in Yogyakarta’s politics, not in terms of day-to-day governance but in strategic and influential functions. It’s like the position of the Thai King or British Queen,” Ari says.
Regarding the status of the Sultan Ground, Ari suggests that the Palace follow the example of the late Hamengkubuwono IX, who agreed to abide by the agrarian law. The initiative for a change, he says, is required not just from the people but also from the Palace as well.
“People should be made aware of possible concentration of power between the sultan, the governor, and the landlords. That’s why a distribution of power between the sultan on one hand and the governor on the other has to be clearly defined, and so should the regulation on the Sultan Ground,” he says.
Unfortunately, such power distribution has not been accommodated in the existing law on regional autonomy as well as in its revised draft prepared by the Ministry of Home Affairs to be deliberated by the House.
“The so-called keraton (palace) revival is emerging. They establish the alliance of Nusantara (Indonesia) palaces and begin to ask about the land formerly belonging to them. So, basically, it’s a national problem that the central government has to take into consideration. The decentralization as a consequence of the implementation of law on regional autonomy has made it possible for the traditional political entities to be revived. In the name of identity or indigenous nostalgia, they reclaim the local political structure,” he says.
According to Ari, the room for local cultural identity, initially created by the law on regional autonomy to negate centralization had been reclaimed by political entities of the past, making it possible for the revival of a new feudalism.
“Decentralization is, therefore, a return to feudalism instead of democracy,” Ari says.

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