There’s a recent polemic where the government is planning to uphold democratic elections for the Yogyakarta province in the reformulation of the Law on the Special Administrative Region of Yogyakarta, thus making the position of governor open for contenders other than the Sultan. There was a lot of (in my opinion, blinded) rage over SBY’s remarks, especially from Yogyakarta and the Sultan’s side, that no monarchy system can clash the constitution and the democratic values in Indonesia.
The media always love to take the context out of proportion and make the government (especially SBY) look bad, but let’s look at the issue with a cool head.
Historically, Yogyakarta’s special status was derived from the Edict of 5 September 1945, which was an agreement between Soekarno and Sultan Hamengkubuwono IX, as the King of Yogyakarta Sultanate, whereby Yogyakarta agrees to be a part of the Republic of Indonesia, but a special clause was inserted and all governance matters in Yogyakarta will be managed by the Sultanate as the head of the region.
Now, why is the central government reopening the issue and threading on thin waters between the already existing tension between the President and the Sultan?
The role of the king, and the role of the governor as the branch of the state to manage its administration in the region, would be two different things. A king, would ideally serve the people, but there’s no formal mechanism to demand accountability of the king, if for instance the king does not provide the public goods that are needed. Throughout history, on the contrary, it is most often the people who serve the king. In addition, the monarchy system is hereditary, thus the people does not choose its leader and they must live with whatever they can get. By this definition, the whole idea of monarchy is nonetheless contradictory with the idea of democracy.
By this definition also, I truly understand the notion of SBY’s remarks.
Bridging between monarchy and democracy is tricky, but it is a must. And this is what the government is trying to achieve. We’ve witnessed several countries transitioned from the monarchy to a functioning democracy, such as Japan, Denmark , United Kingdom, and our neighboring country, Thailand.
As the case for Thailand, I would not call it a functioning democracy yet, because of their current political crisis. The monarchy in Thailand have enjoyed the “above politics” status where it is a taboo for Thais to talk about the king, let alone criticize the monarchy which could be criminalized due to the lèse majesté law. Criticizing the government is crucial because it is a form of checks and balances as the people have the right to demand better governance. The political crisis in Thailand, would be because of the monarchy’s interference in the democracy process (and the inability for accountability), along with the military’s presence in the political sphere and the power struggles between the elites and the rural masses.
Of course, back to the case in Yogyakarta, it is up to the people of Yogyakarta to decide what they want for their region. Do they want their Sultan to continue being the governor, or should the Sultan be outside of politics (not above politics – as I’ve briefly explained about Thailand) and let a competent representative of the people to run as governor? Although technically I’m a bit uneasy on who to define exactly as the “people of Yogyakarta”, they should have the right and be given an avenue to voice their opinions, which would not be the case if it were in a true monarchy system.
It is a difficult task to bridge Yogyakarta’s special status and sultanate with the democracy that Indonesia adheres to, but we must remember that the underlying goal underneath the whole polemic is how to serve the people better and deliver the public goods that are needed as necessary.