Outcry over political dynasty in Banten

Jakarta - The recent arrest of a top judge for allegedly taking bribes from a brother of Banten governor Ratu Atut Chosiyah has inadvertently exposed the strong grip on power her family has in the province.

The saga has triggered a public outcry over the reach of political dynasties in Indonesia.

Ms Ratu Atut (in photo above), 51, has been governor of Banten since 2007. Her daughter, stepmother, stepbrother and sister-in-law are mayors or district chiefs in the province.

In the bribery case, her youngest brother Tubagus Chaeri Wardana, or Wawan, is accused of offering one billion rupiah (S$110,000) to top constitutional judge Akil Mochtar for a favourable ruling in an election dispute.

Ms Ratu Atut has also been questioned in connection with the case.

Ongoing investigations revealed how her family has been able to amass a fortune from connections and control over big development projects.

The family's assets include billions of rupiah worth of projects as well as luxury cars from Ferraris to Lamborghinis.

The disclosures have prompted calls for more in-depth investigations into the family and also for regulations to bar members of a family from running for political office in the same province.

Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi said 57 district leaders are members of political dynasties spread across Indonesia.

But it is the Banten case that has set tongues wagging for the amount of political and financial influence wielded by one family.

"The case harks back to the Suharto era when one family on a much higher political level wielded such influence... People are sick of such nepotism," political analyst Gandung Ismanto of Banten's University Sultan Ageng Tirtayasa told The Straits Times.

"In Banten, there had been murmurings for a long time that Ratu Atut's family exploits the system to grab assets," he added.

Protests demanding that elected members of Ms Ratu Atut's family resign have escalated since the Corruption Eradication Commission arrested Wawan, a businessman who owns or has links with many companies.

Ms Ratu Atut was deputy governor of Banten before she became Indonesia's first female governor in 2007 and was re-elected last year. She is the eldest daughter of influential Banten businessman Tubagus Chosin Sochib, who has six wives and 24 heirs.

But dissatisfaction with Banten's first family has been growing.

In March this year, angry residents blocked a major road from Serang to Lebak to protest against their governor for neglecting to repair infrastructure, such as the potholed and bumpy road, since she was elected governor.

According to non-governmental organisation Indonesia Corruption Watch, 175 projects in Banten worth 1.15 trillion rupiah are controlled by Ms Ratu Atut's family through their 10 companies and its 24 affiliates.

The ongoing case could tarnish the image of the Golkar party ahead of presidential elections in July next year, since Ms Ratu Atut and her family members are senior Golkar cadres. But Golkar chairman Aburizal Bakrie has stood staunchly behind them.

"As long as it is good for the party, go ahead. The problem is not the political dynasty," he was quoted by Jakarta Post as saying.

Dr Gandung disagrees, saying: "Looking at the evidence and implications of this case. Surely Pak Aburizal is out of context here. His statement is puzzling."

zubaidah@sph.com.sg

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