By Yogi Setya Permana
A researcher at the Center for Political Studies of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI)


After decentralization been applied, local politics in Indonesia is marked by the emergence of new phenomena such as the strengthening of local identity. The example of strengthening the local identity is the revival of traditional institutions such as the aristocracy and adat institutions. At the same time, decentralization condition to the expansion of the state apparatus especially in the outer islands. State authorities that represented by the bureaucracy dominate the political leadership in these areas.

Sumbawa District in West Nusa Tenggara Province is an example of an area in the outer island that is experiencing massive expansion of the state apparatus and the revival of local identities at once. The bureaucrat apparatus dominates formal and informal leadership in the region. Meanwhile, the Sumbawa aristocrats evoke the historical romance through revitalize Sumbawa Sultanate through Lembaga Adat Tana Samawa (LATS). In the official documents, it is noted that LATS is intended as intermediary actors that mediate between local governments and society. Therefore, is the presence of LATS as an intermediary actor able to strengthen local democracy in Sumbawa?

I would argue that LATS is not able to function as responsive intermediary actors because of two factors. The first, there is institutional problems so it makes the performance of LATS is not responsive and effective; the second, predatory political economy oriented so it makes LATS does not advocate marginalised group. This essay will elaborate to what extend the presence of Lembaga Adat Tana Samawa (LATS) in Sumbawa is able to strengthen local democracy as intermediary actor. This essay structure consists of (i) Introduction (ii) Theoretical review (iii) Sumbawa’s political history background (iv) Elaboration about LATS as an intermediary actor (v) Conclusion.

Theoretical Overview

It can be found sufficient scholarly literatures on Indonesian politics that discuss the phenomenon of strengthening of local identity after the collapse of the New Order and the application of decentralization (Mietzner in Hill, 2014; Nordholt in Harris, Stokke, Tornquist, 2005; Davidson and Henley, 2007). The revival of local identity sentiment is a consequence from the New Order regime nation-building management that were very tight and centralized (Mietzner in Hill, 2014). Suharto controlled the plurality of ethnic and cultural identity in Indonesia repressively under the pretext of unity in diversity. Bureaucracy, Golkar, and the military is an instrument that used by the New Order regime to ensure effective control and domination to all regions in Indonesia. The senior bureaucrats and military officer of Java was placed as head of the region in various areas, especially in the outer islands (Malley in Aspinall and Fealy, 2003).

Form of local identity strengthening is the revivalism of pre-republican authority symbols (Van Klinken in Davidson and Henley, 2007). Gerry Van Klinken (Davidson and Henley, 2007) noted that there were dozens of aristocracy in various areas experiencing profile rising such as Kasepuhan Royal House in Cirebon. There are several kingdoms in Borneo and North Maluku experience resurrection. Last, six aristocracies experiencing reinventions such as Jailolo Sultanate. The aristocrat tries to revive their existence in the local politics by presenting image as not as a dictator who applies feudalism, but rather as adat and identity representations, local communities defender, and offers a sense of security (Van Klinken in Davidson and Henley, 2007). However, the presence of these aristocrats is not well accepted by the indigenous people movement activists such as the Alliance of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago (AMAN). They considered that the aristocracy remained a representation of feudalism, while the activists advocating equal rights for the indigenous society.

Besides the strengthening of local identity, decentralization also conditioned the existence of massive state penetration. In contrast to the previous mainstream assumption that decentralization weakens the state, it actually strengthen state presence (central) in the periphery areas (Mietzner in Hill, 2014). The meaning of decentralization is the central government delegates some authority to local governments but not necessarily the state then becomes weak (Mietzner in Hill, 2014). The presence of the state through its administrative bureaucracy becomes increasingly significant in the outer area especially. The outer island even did not touch massively during the New Order government. The main cause is the pemekaran moves state closer to the public. The main representation of the state in Indonesian regions is not longer by the military but the civilian bureaucracy recently (Mietzner in Hill, 2014).

Strong bureaucracy in local politics is seen in the early after1998 transition where the majority of region heads has bureaucracy background (Aspinall and Fealy in Malley, 2003). Bureaucrats were able to adapt to the new political system and consolidate themselves in order to continue the power domination. After the application of direct local election, the bureaucrat still maintains the domination in vast regions. It is noted that 36 % of the candidates who ran in the 50 selected pools have bureaucracy background. The second position is business people with 28 % and politicians / MPs with 22 % (Mietzner, 2014). It shows that even the political regime is changed but the old elite still survives. They adapt successfully to the changing political system.

The survival of the old elite illustrates how the dominance of the politico-business elite in the New Order is still maintained. Although Suharto has fallen, the dominance of the elite oligarchy is not interrupted (Robison and Hadiz, 2004). Oligarchy is able to survive in the midst of pressure for policy and governance reforms imposed by the international financial institutions and donors (Robison and Hadiz, 2013). The success of the oligarchy to survive is because of its durability or resilience networks both within the institution of political authority (state) as well as economic sector. He concluded that political predators who have affiliation either directly or indirectly with the national oligarchy hijacked decentralization agenda in Indonesian local politics (Hadiz, 2010). Circulation of power at the local level remains limited on the oligarchic groups who reorganise smartly. This oligarchy alliance with multi level capitalist (local, national, international) in order to dominates political and economic resources in the regions (Hadiz, 2010).

Therefore, in order to maintain the advocacy of the public interest and deepening democracy process, the role of intermediary actors can be expected. Concept of intermediary actors that used in this essay refers to the concept offered by Olle Tornquist in Rethinking Popular Representation (2009). Intermediary actors are actors who can act as mediators between the public with the public affairs. Public affairs means common concern that people should control that mainly related with basic needs, common goods, and accountability.

There are three types of mediation (Tornquist, Webster, Stokke; 2009). The first type is through civil society such as NGOs, associational life, and public discourse. Civil society is defined not only isolated in the grassroots level but also can be as a mediator who negotiate with other political entities. The second type is through political society with political party as a main actor. The third type is informal leaders or groups that mainly based on kinship, religion, and ethnicity.

Aristocrat and Politics in Sumbawa District
This section will discuss the role of aristocrats in Sumbawa’s politics. It is important to elaborate the historical background about the aristocrat because it will provide the context for the emergence of LATS and the revival of Sumbawa Sultanate. The contemporary phenomenon about LATS is a consequence from Sumbawa political history. Therefore, the assessment about LATS as an intermediary actor could be understands comprehensively.

During the colonial era, the Dutch established alliances with aristocratic elites in order to create indirect rule. After independence, the aristocrats compete with other forces in society in order to maintain its position. The aristocracy, especially in the outer island, cooperated with the bureaucrats from Java to defend their political position towards the local opposition in the 1950s. The bureaucrats took benefit from the alliance due to face common enemy that are Islamic parties and leftist (Nordholt in Harris, Stokke, Tornquist, 2005).

However, the situation in Sumbawa showed the opposite side. There was no destructive conflict related to political stream that popular in 1950s-1960s. It was different with the situation in Java or even other districts in West Nusa Tenggara it self such as Bima and Lombok. The Sultanate and other political forces are relatively able to live in peaceful coexistence. Reformist Islamic groups such as Muhammadiyah and PSII supported Sumbawa Sultanates. With the ability to embrace Islamic groups, the aristocrats can secure their charisma and authority over the society (Magenda, 1989)

Excessive penetration of power by central government during New Order period makes the aristocrats have no bargaining power as in the previous time. If the aristocrats were not able to include in the new rules of the political game and the patronage network then surely its existence will decrease drastically. It was also no exception for Sumbawa Sultanate.

Sumbawa aristocracy began to lose its existence since the abolition of sultanate status and Sumbawa became Swatantra II (similar with district level) in the end of 1950s. However, the most significant destructive impact for Sumbawa Sultanate in political leadership took place under the New Order government. Sultan Mohammad Kaharuddin III still served as the region head of Sumbawa on January 22, 1959, then replaced by Madilaoe ADT III (1960-1965 and 1979-1989), a career bureaucrat. It was started at that time and continues until today, Sumbawa has never been led by an aristocratic figure.

After 1966, the prestige of aristocrats in Sumbawa’s politics decline dramatically. The military dominated politics both at the national and local levels at the period of New Order. Candidate who will be head of region is determined by the central government through ministry of home affair. Aristocrats were then searching for a way to survive such as join with the Golkar. The aristocrats expected that they would be accommodated in the new political regime. However, the expectation of aristocrats was never happened. They still marginalised in the Sumbawa’s political leadership.

All district heads that had served in Sumbawa have bureaucracy and military background. No one has an aristocrat background. Hasan Usman (1967-1979), was a son from an ordinary farmer. He was a career bureaucrat. Jakob Koswara (1989-1999) was a Sundanese military officer. He served as Commander of the Combat Engineering in Mataram, the city capital of Nusa Tenggara province. It was because the policy from central government, he was appointed as region head in Sumbawa (Interview with Arassy Muhkan, Vice Regent of Sumbawa, June 9, 2012). The situation that happened is Sumbawa’s history reflects the central–periphery design that created by The New Order regime. Central government controlled strictly the political leadership in the local level. It is noted that 73 per cent provinces outside of Java in the period from 1965 to 1998 chaired by a Javanese or Sundanese the governor (Mietzner in Hill, 2014). In 1970, 20 of 26 provinces held by a governor from the military background (Nordholt in Harris, Stokke, Tornquist, 2005).

Beside the abolition of the sultanate status, the declining of Sumbawa aristocrats’ existence is caused by the loss of control over sultanate land. Land reform policies that issued by Sukarno through the Agrarian Law in 1960 reduced the Aristocracy Sumbawa land ownership significantly. Land is the source of economic capital of the aristocrats. Through their ownership of the land, the aristocrats maintain the patronage structure. Therefore, the removal of sultanate land ownership makes the aristocrats power reduced dramatically.

At the previous time, Sumbawa aristocrats have hundreds of hectares of sultanate land. Sultanate of Sumbawa has the ownership rights toward extensive land similar with the sultanate land in Yogyakarta. Land that owned by the Sultanate of Sumbawa called by the public as “uma pemangan” which means rice field for feeding the palace and its residences. “Uma pemangan” that owned by the Sultan mainly was a fertile land with well irrigation system. After the Land Reform policy was applied, the land has been switched ownership but not necessarily owned by the public. The military then controlled more than 37 thousand square meters that used for the Military Police headquarters and housing (Interviews with the officials of LATS, June 7, 2012).

After the collapse of the New Order regime, the dominance of bureaucrats in both the formal political leadership as the head of the region as well as in informal leadership such as community associations are not replaced. Since 2000, all Sumbawa Regents from bureaucrats career background. Latif Madjid (2000-2005) was a Secretary of West Sumbawa District. Jamaluddin Malik (2005-2015) last position in bureaucracy was also as a district secretary.

Community associations such as the Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI) and the Faithful Brotherhood (FPUB) led by retired bureaucrats. Organization of Islamic community in Indonesia namely Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) is chaired by retired employees of Pertamina (state oil company) named Arrahman Mochtar. Traditionally, NU led by ulama but it is different in Sumbawa. It is also can be seen that several local print media are owned by the bureaucrats. It is not few of retired bureaucrats entering political parties. The example is Nadi Hussein, a retired bureaucrat, who became the leader of Gerindra for Sumbawa local branch.

The dominance of bureaucrats in Sumbawa is also affected by the economic posture. Sumbawa economy is still largely supported by government budget. The largest financial source of Sumbawa in 2010 came from the general allocation fund (DAU) that amounted to approximately Rp 436 billion. Mean while the contribution of local revenue (PAD) just only reached Rp. 41 billion (BPS, 2010). The biggest allocation portion was for bureaucrat expenditure.

The existence of Sumbawa aristocrat is increasing since the return of Daeng Muhammad Abdurahman Kaharuddin or so called Daeng Ewan. He is the son of Sultan Mohammad Kaharuddin III who was the last Sumbawa’s sultan. Daeng Ewan became Sultan officially through musakarah adat or traditional ceremony in 2011. The story of Daeng Ewan is not much different with the story of Gusti Suriansyah who returned to Landak, West Kalimantan to become as a sultan after live in city for years (van Klinken in Davidson and Henley, 2007). Since his youth, Daeng Ewan has migrated out from Sumbawa. He graduated from the prestigious University of Indonesia. Then, he continued to work as a high rank banker. He had been a Director of Bank Bumi Daya and commissioner of Nusa Tenggara Province Regional Development Bank (BPD).

Before officially become Sultan of Sumbawa in 2011, Daeng Ewan tried to running as a candidate in the 2005 district head election. However, he did not acquire at least 15% support from political parties so he did not qualify for the administrative requirements. The aristocrat groups who support Daeng Ewan believe that Latif Madjid (incumbent) conducted sabotage toward political parties that support Daeng Ewan previously (interview with Hasanuddin, LATS activists, June 7, 2012). They assumed that there is a people in Sumbawa who afraid with the existence of aristocrats. Some aristocrats assessed that it is why they marginalised in the bureaucracy with removal from various strategic position (interview with A. Rahman Abdul Majid / Daeng Marwa, June 7, 2012). After these failures, Daeng Ewan focuses on the revitalization of Sumbawa Sultanate through Tana Samawa Indigenous Institute (LATS). He hope that he will enhance the existence of Sumbawa aristocracts with symbolic capital as a sultan through LATS (interview with Daeng Ewan, June 9, 2012)

LATS as Intermediary Actor

Tana Samawa Indigenous Institute (LATS) was actually established at first in 1996 that aims to take care of the cultural heritage of Sumbawa. However, the institution did not have activities. After the return of Daeng Ewan to Sumbawa, (LATS) reactivated along with the desire to resurrect the Sultanate of Sumbawa. Formal decision to resurrect the Sultanate of Sumbawa through the revitalization of LATS is achieved at 2011 musakarah ceremony.

In the event, Daeng Ewan crowned as the 17th Sultan of Sumbawa as well as adat leader. Not only the coronation of the Sultan, the musakara adat was also produced several decisions such as put the LATS as intermediary actor between local governments and the community. It means that the LATS can act as facilitators and mediators in the conflict or dispute related to the culture and adat. Therefore, is Sumbawa Sultanate through LATS able to be as intermediary actors that will balance the domination of bureaucrats? There are two explanations why LATS cannot function as an effective intermediary actor in Sumbawa. The two factors are institutional problems and predatory orientation on economic resources.

First, the institutional problems that experienced by the LATS cause could not perform effectively so it does not contribute as expected. The dominance of local governments in the LATS is extensive. The Sumbawa adat community are not included in the preparation of local regulations for the presence of LATS. Therefore, at the very first beginning LATS has been co-opted by the local government. Sumbawa Adat community, in this case referring to the group aristocrat and his supporters, was not given the space to design their own institutional posture of LATS.

LATS local regulation was not equipped with technical regulation related to the implementation and scope of its authority. Without clear authority of the coverage work, LATS does not have the autonomy to determine its own agenda. In addition, the high-ranking bureaucrats chair several important position the LATS so the prestige of LATS is declining. Mahmud Abdullah, the chairman of LATS, is the secretary of Sumbawa District.

All of this information shows that local governments subordinating LATS. This is actually contrary to the national Indigenous Regulation No. 1 of 2009. The mandate from the national regulation is that the relationship between traditional institutions with local governments is partnership and coordinative. Therefore, a traditional institution is not the subordinate of local government. Traditional institutions should not be co-opted by the local government. The purpose of the intermediary actor is as an alternative representation that links between community and government.

Secondly, the institutional problems are exacerbated by the aristocrats predatory orientated toward economic resources. It is evidenced with how the LATS involvement in the conflict between indigenous Cek Bocek community with PT Newmont and local government of Sumbawa. LATS was not trying to advocate for indigenous people Cek Bocek but instead was involved in the persecution through its symbolic capital. Daeng Ewan, as the Sultan of Sumbawa and adat leader, using his authority to make a statement that indigenous Cek Bocek is not part of the Sultanate of Sumbawa or Samawa ethnic. Samawa is an ethnic of people who lived in Sumbawa Island and established Sumbawa Sultanate.

The conflict began with the rejection of indigenous community Cek Bocek toward mining exploration activities that covering 16.568.54 hectare in 2006 (Harianto, 2012). It is because the mining explorations occupy their ancestor land and settlement. Indigenous Community Cek Bocek spread in three villages in the south of Sumbawa. Those three villages are including Lawin, Lebangkar, and Ketapang. Indigenous communities Cek Bocek who lives in the Lawin village reached 400 families, 500 families in the Lebangkar, and 600 families in the Ketapang (Antara News, January 7, 2012). Besides extended to residential areas, mining exploration also includes Elang Dodo forest which is the ancestral lands that were held as part of cek bocek indigenous community spiritual place. They use the Elang Dodo forests in order to fulfil their life necessity such as hunting, taking honey, timber, plantation, and plantation.

PT Newmont mining exploration that disputed by indigenous communities cek bocek is part of the long-term agreement contracts agreed by the government of Indonesia with Newmont Gold Company (USD) in 1986. The mining cooperation oriented to commodities such as gold and coppers that covering 1.127.134 hectare in the West Nusa Tenggara region (Harianto, 2012). After the implementation of decentralization, the local government has authority to signature the approval in the renewed agreement contract in 2005.

Then, Indigenous communities cek bocek asked the DPRD to advocate their right to protest the Sumbawa District government and PT. Newmont. However, the demand of indigenous community was not receive well respond. Sumbawa District government considered that the Elang Dodo forest is not the ancestor or adat land of the cek bocek community. The forest belongs to the state (Pulau Sumbawa News, January 12, 2012). As the accumulation of disappointments, cek bocek indigenous communities conducted boycott of the activities of PT. Newmont in their adat land, including Elang Dodo forests.

The involvement of Tana Samawa Indigenous Institute (LATS) was not to act as a mediator of conflict. Daeng Ewan, as the Sultan of Sumbawa and adat leader of Samawa, did not recognize the existence of cek bocek indigenous communities as part of the Samawa ethnic. Sultan argued that cek bocek indigenous community was never recorded in Sumbawa Sultanate history. The statement from Daeng Ewan is used as the basis of legitimacy by the local government in its policy not to approve the demands of cek bocek indigenous community (Pulau Sumbawa News, January 3, 2012)

Daeng Ewan statement is rejected by the representatives from Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) that accompanied the cek bocek indigenous communities in conflict with PT Newmont and the Sumbawa local government. Chairman of the AMAN, Abdon Nababan, was also participating directly to assist cek bocek indigenous community in several meetings with the government and PT Newmont. AMAN stated that the cek bocek is valid for so-called indigenous peoples in Sumbawa (Pulau Sumbawa News, January 16, 2012). This is because they have lived for generations in a particular geographic region or institution and governed by their own customary law. In addition, AMAN argued that Tana Samawa Indigenous Institute (LATS) is not indigenous communities but Sumbawa aristocracy. Therefore, LATS represents feudalism in the contrary with the principle that indigenous communities in AMAN adopted namely egalitarianism.

The dispute between Tana Samawa Indigenous Institute (LATS) with AMAN and cek bocek indigenous communities showed that the strengthening of local identity is also cause friction among ethnic and sub-ethnic, culture and sub-culture in Indonesia. They were contesting for the authority to legitimize adat status. In the case of Sumbawa, the contestation for legitimacy claim can be happened because there is overlap between sultanate and ethnicity identity. Sumbawa Sultanate is bounded by common ethnic namely samawa. Therefore, people who do not belong to samawa ethnic will be categorised as non-indigenous.

LATS, Sumbawa Sultanate representation currently, is not able to act as an intermediary actor that expected previously. Symbolic capital that owned by LATS and the Sultanate is only used as an economic instrument to be able to access the resources provided by the state and global corporations. Predatory orientation is shown clearly in the willingness of Daeng Ewan to be a member of Consultative Committee of Exploration (KKE) PT Newmont Nusa Tenggara. Local government and PT Newmont established The Consultative Committee of Exploration (KKE) in order to facilitate mining exploration in Sumbawa District.


Sumbawa case shows how the strengthening of local identity through the revival of the aristocracy is not contributed for the deepening of democracy. Sultanate of Sumbawa that represented by the presence of Tana Samawa Indigenous Institute (LATS) is not able to be an intermediary actor who advocates marginalized groups. They just become part of the local oligarchy – global corporation alliance that hijacks the agenda of decentralization.



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