Viewpoint: Kinship politics threatens democracy

Viewpoint: Kinship politics threatens democracy

What is interesting with regard to Indonesian democracy is that it paves the way for people to come to power through the use of family relationships, as seen in the clans of a number of governors, Ratu Atut Chosiyah, Syahrul Limpo, Sinyo Sarundajang and Sjachroedin ZP and many more at the regency or municipal levels across the nation.

Just as these are prototypical kin relationships in politics, so is the Yudhoyono clan, as the President's relatives serve as House of Representatives lawmakers and are seeking reelection, benefiting from their family ties with him.

The country has established liberal democracy as indicated by direct elections for president, legislators, governors and regional heads. As a result, it has opened up wide opportunities for everyone to attain power with the help of lineage connections.

Kinship and politics are the essential subjects of political anthropology, and one is hardly able to explain the discipline clearly without addressing the relation between the two. Prominent anthropologist Robin Fox (1967) says: "Kinship is to anthropology what logic is to philosophy or the nude is to art; it is the basic discipline of the subject."

Kinship politics is commonly found in tribal societies across the world where kin genealogy is applied to determine the system of communal leadership. It is the traditional pattern of bequeathing political power among family members.

From the anthropological point of view, lineage has three main functions: (1) an instrument for strengthening societal ties and establishing social cohesion, as well as a catalyst for the conflict-resolution process; (2) political organisation in which the leadership structure is dominated by some elite groups called episodic leaders, big men or tribal chiefs who portray themselves as a godfather-type figure; (3) the mechanism of elite circulation within traditional political systems controlled by exclusive family members, relying on unilineal descent associations (e.g. Donald Kurtz 2001).

Kinship politics is built based on the classic political principle: blood is thicker than water. It asserts that power should be distributed among family members.

For the sake of family security, power should not be seized from those who have kinship connections and must be circulated only among those who are tied by blood.

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