With Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo’s son and son-in-law winning the December 2020 mayoral elections in Solo, Central Java, and Medan, North Sumatra, respectively, observers are wary of yet another challenge to the country’s democratic backsliding: the persistence of dynastic politics.
Indonesia’s democracy has in the past two years exhibited significant setbacks with the passage of controversial laws, the weakening of the anti-corruption agency and the shrinkage of the oppositional camp which erodes the checks-and-balances mechanisms. Dynastic politics is certainly not a welcomed trait for a country marred with weak political structure and high instances of corruption and patronage.
For more than 15 years since it first introduced direct elections for regional heads, Indonesia’s politics, like those of India and the Philippines, has accommodated power transfers among family members of elected officials. The 2020 is thus not the first instance that the country witnessed family members of active politicians succeeded in assuming elected office. Yet with the President’s own family now involved, Indonesians are cautious of the rampancy of dynastic politics and concerned of what this would imply pertaining to Indonesia’s strive towards good governance going forward.
Although regional elections have become the platform on which dynastic politics are sustained and flourish, national politics are also not impervious to their proliferation. Some of Indonesia’s largest political parties, such as the government’s main party, the Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle (PDIP) and its long-time rival the Democratic Party (PD), are both family-based parties whose leadership succession lines hinge on their founders’ family-members.
Seeing its persistence and pervasiveness, some observers are wary of what dynastic politics would mean to Indonesia’s democracy going forward, especially whether kin-based political succession would hinder democratic governance and perpetuate patronage/clientelism already rampant in local-level politics.
This paper seeks to understand which factors explain the persistence of dynastic politics in Indonesia. Moreover, with the recent trend of oligarchic influence in the national politics, the paper also aims at illustrating how dynastic politics could create a congruence of interests between local and national elites which in turn will extend the oligarchic pull in the local level.
The views expressed in this publication are not necessarily those of Heinrich Böll Stiftung