All in the family in Indonesia politics?

All in the family in Indonesia politics?

Probably the most educational project I have ever undertaken in my half-century of journalism was a magazine cover story I wrote in the late 1980s on the Philippine family dynasties that have dominated political and economic life there for generations.

It taught me more about the Philippines and its feudal culture than anything I did during my four years in Manila. Indeed, it left me wondering whether anything could possibly change for the better in such a sugar-coated democracy.

When Indonesia began the process of decentralisation in the late 1990s, something I still believe was essential to keeping the republic intact, one of my fears was that it would lead to the creation of similar regional dynasties.

Somehow, Indonesia's elite seemed different on several levels. Yet nearly 15 years into the democratic era, the growth of dynastic families in a number of provinces has sparked a public debate on whether it is the start of a disturbing trend.

In a recent study of the country's provincial and district elections, Northern Illinois University academic Michael Buehler highlighted the prominent role played by local clans in Banten, West Java and South Sulawesi.

In particular, he pointed to Banten Governor Ratu Atut Chosiyah, whose family now fills top executive positions in four of the province's eight districts. In addition, her elder brother sits on the Regional Representative Council and her late husband was a Golkar legislator.

Ms Chosiyah has come in for intense scrutiny since her youngest brother was linked to an electoral bribery case involving Constitutional Court chief justice Akil Mochtar, which has struck the heaviest blow yet to the country's graft-ridden judiciary.

South Sulawesi Governor Syahrul Yasin Limpo also heads a powerful clan. One of his brothers is a district head, his older sister is in the provincial Parliament, her daughter is a national lawmaker and Mr Limpo's younger brother is on the Makassar legislature.

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