Beware of Nepotism in Politics
PRESIDENT Joko Widodo may well give the excuse that the nomination of his son and son-in-law in elections for regional heads this December does not break any rules.
He can also claim that the candidacy of Gibran Rakabuming Raka and Bobby Nasution in the elections for mayor of Solo and Medan respectively is not an indication of a political dynasty. But it is clear that the appearance of members of his family on the Indonesian political scene is just the latest example of the increasing nepotism among the elite in this nation.
Jokowi is not alone in this. Siti Nur Azizah, daughter of Vice-President Ma’ruf Amin, is also standing in the election for mayor of South Tangerang. Previously, the daughter of President Megawati Sukarnoputri, Puan Maharani sat in the cabinet. The son of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, ran for the governorship of Jakarta.
According to Yoes C. Kenawas, who is studying for a doctorate in politics at Northwest University, Illinois, United States, at present 117 regional heads or deputy heads come from political dynasties. They have won regional elections in the last five years. In the 2019-2024 House of Representatives, there are 104 members who have family links with the political elite. This phenomenal number shows how deeply the poison of nepotism has penetrated into our political veins.
This reality is very concerning. We remember that at the peak of the 1998 reformasi movement, the main demand from the student and civil activists who toppled President Suharto was the eradication of corruption, collusion and nepotism. Students were angry seeing how the New Order regime had built its power over 32 years with the help of elite cronies and families. They completely wrecked Indonesia’s political social and economic order because these members of the elite rose to positions of power only because of their family connections, not their competence. The result was leaders who preferred to curry favor with those above them and ignored the interests of the people.
The demand to stop nepotism was right and relevant because since Indonesia was established on August 17, 1945, the founding fathers agreed that it would be a republic. In sessions of the Investigating Committee for Preparatory Work for Independence (BPUPKI), they realized the importance of putting the public interest above everything. For example, Muhammad Yamin stated that in a republic, the interests of the people must come first, not those of officials or the political elite. The nepotism that has increasingly taken root in the political map recently clearly violates this fundamental principle of our statehood.
This has come about as a result of many related factors. However, the biggest share of blame belongs to the political parties, which have failed to turn themselves into modern organizations based on meritocracy. Almost every political party in Indonesia is highly dependent on individuals at every level, from the regions to the center. Established politicians became patrons who provide opportunities for their husbands, or wives, children or in-laws, nieces and nephews and other members of their extended family to occupy public positions.
This only worsens the old political mindset which has ingrained in the minds of many Indonesian voters. People are manipulated so they have more trust in popular names than in the system. The leaders of parties keep their jobs for years without being replaced because they are seen as having the charisma to mobilize the masses, bring together competing factions and fund the parties. As a result, like the coronavirus, nepotism keeps spreading and never dies.
There are those who say that political nepotism is a consequence of democracy. They say, in this system, everybody has the right to stand for the leadership, no matter who his or her parents are. The United States, the Philippines, Japan and India are often quoted as examples of democracies with the similar problem with political dynasties. However, this argument is not entirely correct. Several researches show that regions controlled for long periods by leaders from the same family tend not to progress, are not accountable and perform poorly. When the rotation of the leadership is closed and political competition is monopolized, the people lose the power to punish bad leaders. Democracy loses its essence.
Therefore, President Jokowi and the political leaders in Indonesia need to realize that first and foremost: this nation is not a family business. Democracy needs the involvement of everybody. Increasing nepotism will not only wreck the political system, but will also reduce the quality of the government’s work. In the end we, the ordinary people of this country, will be the one to lose out.