3 posts

Vol. 8, No. 3, HARA Tamiki


Contents>> Vol. 8, No. 3

Defeating a Political Dynasty: Local Progressive Politics through People Power Volunteers for Reform and Bottom-up Budgeting Projects in Siquijor, Philippines

Hara Tamiki*

* 原 民樹, Faculty of Commerce and Economics, Chiba University of Commerce, 1-3-1
Konodai, Ichikawa-shi, Chiba 272-8512, Japan
e-mail: tamiki.h.1985[at]

DOI: 10.20495/seas.8.3_413

Despite its much-touted agenda to fight poverty and corruption, the Aquino administration was not able to produce good results during its term at the national level. However, some political forces and policy reforms that emerged with the administration achieved remarkable change at the local level. This paper explores the case of Siquijor Province, where an entrenched political dynasty was defeated in the 2013 and 2016 elections by candidates supported by the Liberal Party and its allied forces, Akbayan, and analyzes factors that brought this change by focusing on activities of People Power Volunteers for Reform, the impact of bottom-up budgeting projects, and the mobilization of powers of the national government through personal relationships. It also notes achievements of the Aquino administration at the local level, provides a critical perspective to the elite democracy discourse that sticks to a static view of Philippine politics, and clarifies local practices by progressive forces that confront oligarchy.

Keywords: political dynasty, oligarchy, local politics, progressive politics, People Power Volunteers for Reform (PPVR), bottom-up budgeting (BUB)


Panahon na para ipasa ang isang anti-dynasty law (It is time to pass an anti-dynasty law),” Philippine President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III said in his last State of the Nation Address on July 27, 2015 (Sabillo 2015). Despite the provision in the 1987 Philippine constitution prohibiting political dynasties, no law has been enacted to implement it.1) Aquino’s statement was interpreted mainly as an implicit criticism of Vice President Jejomar Binay, who was seeking to lift term limits for elected officials and planning to run for the next presidential election in 2016.2) Aquino’s appeal for the enactment of the law sounded ironic because he himself was a scion of the Philippines’ most famous dynasty. Nevertheless, Aquino knew well that his supporters were calling for some form of an anti-dynasty policy. Columnists and scholars often criticize political dynasties in various media, and it is a common view that political dynasties in the Philippines have too much power and need to be constrained in some way.

From a general point of view, political dynasties’ influence has been strengthened rather than weakened over time. Table 1 shows that ratios of members of Congress who belong to political dynasties have increased as a long-term trend since the People Power or EDSA (Epifanio de los Santos Avenue) Revolution.3) The anti-dynasty bill proposed by the 16th Congress (2013–16) was shelved due to opposition from powerful lawmakers (many of them dynasts themselves).


Table 1 Political Dynasties in Selected Philippine Congresses


This has sustained a framework that regards the post-EDSA period as the restoration of elite democracy. As JPaul Manzanilla points out:

what has been achieved in the Philippines thus far is the return of formal democracy, oftentimes called “oligarchic politics,” “cacique democracy” and “elite democracy” where a freewheeling democratic system has further entrenched the landed and business few who made officialdom bow to their interests. (Manzanilla 2016, 13)

Certainly, elite democracy has continued until today, and political dynasties have retained control over the formal democratic system that people regained through the revolution.

At the same time, however, elite democracy is neither static nor changeless. While recognizing the limited possibilities for change during the post-EDSA period, several studies focus on positive changes after the revolution: “The Philippines may, in fact, now be entering a potentially significant phase as popular forces, challenging the rule of oligarchic elite, strive to deepen the democratization process and institutionalize people power” (Quimpo 2008, 7). On the other hand, many studies view the People Power Revolution as a political event with a clear beginning and end. Scholars such as Nathan Quimpo think of it as a long-term development of progressive visions created during the anti-Marcos movement.

When we consider the legacy of People Power today, the Aquino administration (2010–16) is a remarkable time to be examined because Noynoy Aquino was an icon of “New People Power.” Corazon Aquino, his mother and the original icon of People Power, passed away in August 2009. The subsequent national mourning and memory of her era pushed her son to become a presidential candidate and gave him a strong support base. On May 10, 2010,

Noynoy Aquino was elected president of the Philippines with a landslide margin. The media and civil society agreed: it was “People Power masquerading as an election.” Indeed, for many Filipinos, the elections sparked memories of the recent past, specifically the bloodless revolution of 1986. (Claudio 2013, 2)

Noynoy Aquino became not only the new icon of national memory but also a catalyst of common political agendas among his support groups through the election campaign. While some people were skeptical about his main promise of poverty reduction, his active support groups took it seriously and hoped to contribute in a practical way to reducing poverty. Aquino’s New People Power vitalized grassroots organizations and created the possibility to “deepen the democratization process and institutionalize people power.”

Even after Aquino finished his term, these aspects of his administration were not well analyzed. It is necessary to examine how New People Power, vitalized through the election campaign of 2010, has materialized itself and what political impact it has had. Therefore, this paper will argue the case of Siquijor Province, where a political dynasty was defeated in elections by Aquino’s Liberal Party (LP) and its coalition party, Akbayan.4) Akbayan was a primary working force in Aquino’s election campaign and sought progressive reforms within the formal democracy. In its General Program of Action, the party stated that it would intensify its “engagement in the mainstream political arena and towards continued mainstreaming of Akbayan as an alternative national political party” (Akbayan 2009, 1); by doing so, “Akbayan can gain more influence and have better chances of having its policy proposals implemented on the ground” (Akbayan 2010, 5).

This case study will clarify how the New People Power initiated by this coalition during the Aquino administration worked—with progressive forces confronting political dynasties and the dynamics of Philippine politics. Specifically, three aspects of the local politics of Siquijor will be discussed. First, People Power Volunteers for Reform (PPVR), which was established primarily as a support group for Aquino’s presidential election campaign, organized local people for local elections in the province. This contributed to the defeat of the political clan in the 2013 elections and prepared the stage for the effective operation of new policies created by the Aquino administration. Second, the bottom-up budgeting (BUB) project, which was designed to improve transparency of government projects and meet local demands more effectively by promoting local associations to join the decision-making process, consolidated LP-Akbayan’s support base and secured their second victory in the 2016 elections. Third, those grassroots efforts became successful with support from the national government through personal ties. Joel Rocamora, the local campaign manager of the LP-Akbayan camp in Siquijor as well as the chief of the National Anti-Poverty Commission, played a crucial role in this.

Political dynasties have been a major topic in the literature on Philippine politics. Alfred McCoy’s An Anarchy of Families (1994), a prominent and classic work in this field based on intensive historical research, clarifies how political clans emerge, succeed, and entrench themselves. While arguing how clans mobilize various means such as guns, goons, and gold—the so-called 3Gs—in order to maintain their power, the book focuses on the key role of family and kinship in organizing political forces in this country. It made a significant contribution to revealing the central characteristics of Philippine politics, which compose a framework of the elite democracy discourse. However, it hardly mentions the cases where political families lost their power. When it refers to those cases, the loss of power is always attributed to inter- or intra-family conflicts. During the era the book discusses, reformist forces that challenged political dynasties were still underdeveloped.

While McCoy describes political dynasties mainly as social forces, Sheila Coronel and her co-authors in The Rulemakers (2004), edited by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, treat them more as legislators. As is well known, both houses and local governments in the Philippines have been dominated by a wealthy few since colonial times. Holding seats in Congress from generation to generation, political families have made full use of their legislative power to sustain their dominant positions. By examining the many roles legislators play, such as making laws, vetting presidential appointments, examining the budget, and spending pork barrel funds, the authors of this book give us a comprehensive picture of how Philippine politics works between politicians and their constituency. Moreover, they pay attention to the emergence of progressive forces through party-list elections. In spite of its institutional limitations, they conclude that the party-list system paved the way to change a political landscape dominated by a few elites.5) However, they were not able to find clear changes or outcomes as of 2004. Therefore, they rather emphasize the reality that reform-minded legislators elected from party lists are absorbed into traditional politics.

More recently, Raymund Rosuelo (2017) argues how long-standing political dynasties can erode, using the case of the municipality of Cainta in Rizal Province. I agree with his following observation:

While there have been a large number of scholarly contributions to the study of political families in the Philippines, a vast majority of past and recent scholarship has tended to focus on the dynamics that lead to the perpetuation of political families in power. Academic discussions have tended to privilege the durability aspect of entrenched political clans. (Rosuelo 2017, 192)

Emphasizing the impact of socioeconomic changes such as urban migration, he points out that the influx of new settlers into middle-class communities made room for new political actors to challenge dominant clans. This social factor is undoubtedly important to explain recent changes in the political geography of the country. However, in Rosuelo’s study the actor that defeats the entrenched clan is another political clan. The erosion of a political dynasty is attributed only to inter-clan competition, like McCoy’s argument. Although Rosuelo is well aware of social factors that displace old rulers, he dismisses new political factors such as the emergence of progressive forces.

Despite the aforementioned dominant tendency in Philippine political studies, there have been some studies on progressive change in local politics. Focusing on changes in socioeconomic situations such as urbanization, Kawanaka Takeshi (1998) takes the case of Naga City and elaborates Mayor Jesse Robredo’s progressive style of organizing constituents. This is a pioneer work in this field. However, although Kawanaka discusses the progressive characteristics of Robredo’s governance, he makes the assumption that political power is monopolized by elites. In this sense, his argument is a sophisticated version of the political machine discourse, which is still within the elite democracy discourse. Contrary to that, this paper will focus on the dimension where the monopoly of political resources is dismantled by democratization from the bottom up.

Quimpo (2008) also provides rich case studies on progressive practices in local politics. In a broad context, this paper might just add a new case to his argument. Yet there has been an important change in the institution of local politics after Quimpo conducted his research: BUB.6) While he mentions several local institutions by which Akbayan organized people, those institutions were still insufficient to confront oligarchy at that time. As discussed below, after the Aquino administration began, Akbayan gained a strong institutional weapon that could be made use of for its local practices. This paper will treat the new stage of local politics after Quimpo’s study and clarify the evolution of the institutionalization of New People Power.

In a broader context, this study will shed light on a new dimension of Southeast Asian politics. In considering political contestation in the region, two common factors have been recognized. First, historical legacy—defined mainly by the Cold War—has hindered the development of large-scale, independent civil society organizations linked to political parties. Second, powerful elites have tried to block political opposition by various methods (Rodan 2015, 117). Relatedly, many political scientists studying Southeast Asia have emphasized the persistence of clientelism despite the progress of modernization (Tomsa and Ufen 2013). However, recently each country in the region seems to be transforming its traditional political structures on various levels and in various directions. This paper makes a remarkable case for how a political force can break those shackles. It will help to understand the reform emerging in Southeast Asia.

The first section gives an overview of Siquijor Province and the Fua clan, a political dynasty in the province. The second section focuses on the activities of PPVR and examines why the Fua clan lost in the 2013 elections. The third section discusses how BUB projects were conducted on the island and how they contributed to the Fua family’s second defeat in the 2016 elections. The fourth section looks at Rocamora’s role in mobilizing the power of the national government. In conclusion, I argue some implications of the case of Siquijor and the emerging dynamics of Philippine politics.

Overview of Siquijor Province and the Fua Clan

Siquijor is a small island in Central Visayas, south of Cebu Island. It is ranked 79th of 81 provinces in terms of population and land area. It had 95,984 residents and 68,988 registered voters in the 2016 elections (Commission on Elections 2016). Agriculture is the biggest source of employment on the island, which produces coconuts, corn, root crops, bananas, and mangoes. Though small in scale, fishery is also an important source of income, with Siquijor having around 6,000 fishermen. There used to be some mining sites in Lazi and Maria, but all operations have been closed down because of poor reserves. Siquijor has only some small-scale enterprises engaged in trading, metalworking, food processing, etc. (National Economic and Development Authority 2008, 29–30). Although the island is becoming a major tourist spot, it still receives far fewer tourists than neighboring islands such as Cebu and Negros. Currently, Siquijor is classified as the fifth income class, which means that it is an economically small-scale province along with many other provinces.7) In the early 1990s Rocamora, a political scientist born in Siquijor, described its social class composition:

Siquijor has a small “upper class” of politicians, senior bureaucrats, a few professionals and Chinese traders who would be “middle class” in the larger islands. The majority of the people barely survives on rocky, hilly land and depleted fishing grounds. In between are government clerks and teachers and petty traders moldering in frustration and boredom. It would be difficult to organize class struggle on the island because income differences are not large. But there is a large pool of educated young people waiting to be tapped for socio-economic projects. (Rocamora 1992, 10)

These characteristics were fairly consistent until recently. The province’s economy remained underdeveloped over the decades, and people suffered from poverty and a lack of economic opportunities.

The clan that governed this stagnating island for 27 years until 2013 was the Fua family. The Fua clan started to gain dominant political power in the province immediately after the People Power Revolution. Orlando Boncawel Fua Sr. was appointed as the officer-in-charge governor of Siquijor in 1986 by the Corazon Aquino administration because he had belonged to the anti-Marcos camp until Marcos was ousted.8) He ran for the 1987 congressional elections, defeated his rivals with an overwhelming majority, and was reelected in 1992 and 1995. His background was not that of a traditional landed elite but that of an emerging professional and businessperson. He first became a lawyer and later began to manage a transport company in the province.9) Because means of transportation between Siquijor and the other islands were limited, shipping services were very profitable during that time (Teehankee 2001, 61).

Fua Sr.’s son, Orlando “Shane” Anoos Fua Jr., also started his career as a lawyer and then held a post in local office in 1995. Because his father finished three consecutive terms in 1998, he ran for congressman and won. In the typical way that political dynasties reproduce themselves, the Fua family continued to take the congressional seat over generations. In addition, Fua Sr.’s siblings and relatives consistently occupied important local posts in the province until 2013.

Although the clan had been in power for 27 years, and even though its members had a background in business, they did not succeed in establishing a strong economic base on the island. This can be symbolically understood by the fact that the municipality of Lazi, where the Fua clan is based, has been the poorest area among the municipalities in the province (Table 2). In addition, Lazi has the lowest number of households with electricity (Table 3). Rocamora points out the following:


Table 2 Annual Income by Municipality (December 2013–January 2014)


Table 3 Households with and without Electricity (December 2013–January 2014)


The Clan mainly engaged in petty corruption focused on “SOP” [standard operating procedure] from public works, and illegal economic activity, gambling, drugs and smuggling. Its attempts to develop businesses, shipping and gasoline and diesel distribution, have failed. Because the Clan blocked investments that it could not make money from, the Siquijor economy has stagnated for most of the last two decades. . . . As a result there is a palpable sense of frustration and a hunger for change among the people, especially the middle class. (Rocamora 2013, 1)

During my interviews, a man who was a captain of a barangay (the smallest administrative unit in the Philippines) in Larena told me, “The 2010 elections were really quiet. There was no actual opposition, no choice. Everybody knew who would win.” As Table 4 shows, the Fua family obtained an overwhelming number of votes in 2010.10) Fua Sr. and Fua Jr. gained 67 percent and 83 percent of the votes, respectively. However, there was a drastic change in the next elections, in 2013. The Fua family lost most of the important local posts as well as the congressional post, and LP candidates replaced all of them. What led to this? The next section will examine the question by focusing on an emerging grassroots movement, People Power Volunteers for Reform.


Table 4 Election Results in 2010


Penetration of PPVR and LP Machinery

When Noynoy Aquino was elected as the president by a huge margin in 2010, there was a sense of anxiety and suspicion toward the new administration among Marxist forces. Responding to an interview, Frank Pascual, a member of the Laban ng Masa (struggle of the masses) party list, pointed out:

For the ruling class, Noynoy is the best choice, especially after GMA (Gloria Mapacagal-Arroyo, the former president). Reducing corruption can be good for big business, but whether it translates into benefits for the people is another matter. . . . The Cory Aquino presidency was installed by a different phenomenon, a mass upsurge against the dictatorship. Noynoy does not have that kind of flexibility to pursue the people’s agenda. (Mohideen 2011, 71)

On the other hand, his victory was substantially sustained by people’s high aspiration for a clean and reliable government. A member of the Partido Lakas ng Masa (power of the masses), Sonny Melencio, said:

Noynoy’s victory is a confirmation that the main issue in the election was the high-handed corruption of the Arroyo regime. People voted for Noynoy because they were sick and tired of the never-ending cases of graft and corruption involving the Arroyo family and their sycophants. Noynoy’s campaign slogan “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” (If no one is corrupt, no one will be poor) may not be true, as poverty emanates not mainly from corruption but from class exploitation and class rule—but it rings a bell and has attracted a broad number of people to support Noynoy in the election. (Mohideen 2011, 69)

From the beginning, the Aquino administration was ambivalent. Even when Aquino stepped down from the presidency, while he was severely criticized for his ineffectiveness in alleviating poverty and his incomplete fight against corruption, he maintained relatively high approval ratings until the end of his term—this was an unprecedented phenomenon in the post-EDSA period.11) Whichever aspect is emphasized, these national-scale discussions overlook a remarkable reality the Aquino administration created, which is that there emerged many people who sensitively responded to people’s voice calling for change and spontaneously worked to actualize Aquino’s agenda at the local level. They were organized as People Power Volunteers for Reform (PPVR). When assessing the Aquino administration, PPVR’s local achievements should be taken into account.

PPVR was originally organized in order to support Aquino’s presidential election campaign in 2010. It established chapters all around the country and worked as machinery for the candidates of LP and its allies. PPVR’s activities, however, continued even after the election. One of the origins of PPVR’s ideas can be found in a suggestion for the Aquino administration proposed by Karina Constantino-David, who had been exercising leadership in organizing a network of development NGOs in the fields of urban poor, women, childcare, housing, and so on since the late 1980s. Because of her rich experience working in civil society, she was appointed as the chairperson of the Civil Service Commission during the Arroyo period. But Constantino-David took a critical stance against Arroyo toward the end and later became a national convener of PPVR. Constantino-David claimed that while Philippine civil society was characterized by “poverty and disparities in wealth, power and opportunity” and “cynicism and suspicion formed due to years of failed expectations,” there was a “proven capacity of volunteerism” and “the need to convert the volunteers mobilized for electoral victory into a force that can be a partner for sustained reform.”12) Adopting this idea, PPVR officially set out its charter after Aquino’s victory. The preamble of the charter declares:

While we have an interest in how these critical institutional and political developments unfold in relation to moving forward with the “walang corrupt, walang mahirap” reform agenda, we must also recognize that we—the groups mobilized by the issues and inspiration of the Noy-Mar campaign—are also interested in building what we now assert as “the people power component of P-Noy’s governance.” We are interested in how the people power movement of which we are a part can become an organized and active partner of P-Noy’s governance in realizing the “walang corrupt, walang mahirap” promise. While we are obviously interested in how well our government agencies function and how well our elected political leaders perform in realizing reforms, we are also interested in how we ourselves can become part of the realization of these reforms. We do not have to be appointed or elected to positions in government in order to help realize the promise of change; we can help in our groups and networks that got Noynoy elected president.13)

For PPVR members, “walang corrupt, walang mahirap” was not political rhetoric but a practical purpose to pursue in their actual lives. They seriously made up their minds to realize it as foot soldiers. PPVR started to reach out to various groups such as women’s organizations and fisherfolks associations as well as individuals at the local level. They encouraged local people to organize themselves as an association and tried to pave the way so that anti-corruption and anti-poverty policies rightly benefited the people. In other words, PPVR empowered people and built mass bases to make Aquino’s reforms work effectively from the bottom up.14)

In Siquijor, PPVR started to operate in 2011 with around 30 leading members. Most of them were not from LP but from Akbayan. They set up chapters in all six municipalities with a variety of positions. For example, in the San Juan municipal chapter, the municipal leaders council consisted of positions such as lead convener, co-convener, secretary, treasurer, auditor, public information officer, youth sector representative, project development and livelihood committee, senior citizens representative, women’s representative, and fisherfolks representative.15) In terms of activities, the chapter facilitated, for example, the San Juan Fisherfolks Forum with Senator T. J. Guingona of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee and also helped form the San Juan Fisherfolks Alliance. For the women, the chapter provided technical assistance through the formation of the San Juan Pantawid (Bridging) Leaders and Kapamilya (Family) Alliance and organized them to participate in a motorcade and rally to mark the International Women’s Day celebration held at the San Juan Social Center. The chapter also supported out-of-school youths and encouraged them to get organized to engage in government projects.16) PPVR also sought to work at the municipality level. For instance, Maria had suffered from a poor water supply system for a long time. In 2016 the Maria municipal chapter helped to get funds from Kalahi-CIDSS to build tanks, wells, and water pipes.17)

In general, what PPVR did at the field level was listen to people’s needs and empower people to organize associations so they could collectively improve their lives. In the beginning it was not easy to contact people. In a private conversation, a PPVR member recalled:

At first, people avoided talking with us because of fear of political harassment from the Fua clan. But as a result of our patient efforts, they gradually started to listen to us covertly. Usually one PPVR member had a conversation with two or three people under a mango tree on the outskirts of a barangay.

It took PPVR a long time to awaken people’s initiative. However, because the Fua clan had done almost nothing for the development of the province and because the people had given up hope for a better life, once change happened, it immediately bore fruit. Many associations sprouted like mushrooms after a rain. PPVR tried to turn these associations into support bases for the coming elections. PPVR members began to tell people that they could make an alternative choice in the next elections to end corruption and authoritarian rule by the clan and gain access to more economic opportunities. PPVR continued its efforts for two years before the 2013 elections.

During the election campaign of 2013, the sectoral groups worked effectively. A women’s association gathered some 2,500 women for the International Women’s Day activity in March 2013, just two months before the elections. Due to anger over illegal fishing financed by the clan, fisherfolks associations were active in the campaign against the clan. Youth organizations were set up in all six municipalities, based on the P-Noy scholarship program. The LP Angels, composed of female college students, accompanied candidates and gave dance performances in rallies. A young boys team, the LP Devils, worked as stagehands during the campaign. They produced homemade propaganda materials such as banners made out of sacks with various slogans calling for support for LP. They put those banners and posters on walls and poles all around the island at midnight. Some members of the LP Devils were recruited from a boxing club in case of an attack from the clan’s goons. In addition to these practices, PPVR and the LP machinery succeeded in penetrating the barangay level and employed unique propaganda campaigns.18) All of these efforts encouraged people to make an alternative choice in the elections.

PPVR dismantled the Fua clan’s domination slowly and broadly from the bottom up over two years. The outcome manifested in the election results. As Table 5 shows, the Fua clan’s candidates for important posts were resoundingly defeated by LP candidates. In each race, the margins were approximately 5,000 votes. This number shows the substantial influence that PPVR established from 2011. It is apparent that PPVR’s penetration played a crucial role in the election results.


Table 5 Election Results in 2013


Implementation of BUB Projects

LP’s electoral victory in 2013 was impressive. However, constituents’ support for LP-Akbayan was still not solid enough. PPVR members felt that the triumph might have been only a temporary expression of dissatisfaction and that the Fua clan would try to recover power in the next elections. To prevent the Fua family from reviving and to ensure LP-Akbayan’s reelection, they needed to consolidate local organizations and show people more specific reliability. Backed by the national government, they received a timely and useful weapon: the BUB program. They started a new challenge to meet the aforementioned goals by making full use of this program. In this section, we will explore how the BUB program contributed to strengthening the mass base that PPVR had established in Siquijor.

BUB was set up in 2012 with the preparation of the 2013 National Expenditure Program and started to operate in 2013. Its basic framework is that the national government provides funds for local development projects planned through participatory processes at the local level. It was originally proposed and driven by Robredo, who implemented governance reforms as Naga City mayor and then worked as the secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government under Aquino from 2010 to 2012. After his death in an airplane accident, his ideas were carried forward by Rocamora, who was appointed as the chief of the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) by Aquino. The general features of BUB are as follows:

First, it is seen as a component of its budget reform thrusts that are aimed at making the national government budgeting process more responsive to local needs. Prior to the introduction of the BUB, the national government budgeting process was primarily driven by the national government agencies that implement the budget although the Regional Development Councils provide LGUs a limited venue to input into the process. Second, the BUB is also viewed as part of the democracy/empowerment reform as it opens another avenue for people’s participation in local planning and budgeting and for generating demand for good governance at the local level. Third, it is also perceived as part of local governance reform in the sense that it provides incentives for good local governance. (Manasan 2015, 2)

Because corruption and poverty were the key issues that the Aquino administration promised to tackle, they had to take concrete action to promote reforms. Aquino was also seeking to change the budgeting system for local development projects because budget allocation systems such as the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) had been thought of as a hotbed of corruption for a long time.19) Through encouraging people’s participation and making the budgeting system more sensitive to people’s needs, it was expected that BUB could prevent corruption and alleviate poverty. Hence, it can be seen as one of the central policies to realize President Aquino’s slogan “walang corrupt, walang mahirap.”

There are several steps that need to be taken before implementing BUB projects. The first is social preparation: “Capacity building activities” need to be organized by civil society organizations (CSOs) and the Human Development and Poverty Reduction Cluster.20) Through these activities, facilitators ensure that people can understand what BUB is, how it can contribute to their lives, and how they can participate in the process. The second step is collection of relevant economic and social data: local government unit (LGU) staff collect relevant information to ensure that projects work effectively. Third, a Local Poverty Reduction Action Plan (LPRAP) workshop needs to be conducted: LGUs organize workshops to put the LPRAP into concrete shape based on the collected data, with active participation from CSOs (Fig. 1).21) The fourth step is identification of priority poverty reduction projects: The expanded LPRAP identifies priority projects to be funded by LGUs based on the discussions in the workshops. Fifth is the endorsement of CSOs: the list of priority projects must be attached with an endorsement of CSOs from the community to prove their participation in the process. Sixth is approval by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (municipal council): the Sangguniang Panlalawigan must approve the list of priority projects. The seventh step is submission of the list of local priority poverty reduction projects: the endorsed list must be submitted to relevant institutions such as the National Anti-Poverty Commission and scrutinized (DBM-DILG-DSWD-NAPC Joint Memorandum Circular No. 1 2012, 4–7).


Fig. 1 Discussion under Way in a LPRAP Workshop


It is evident that the BUB process sufficiently ensures CSOs’ participation in various stages. This plays an important role in inspiring people to participate. In Siquijor, many CSOs have been newly organized since 2013 and are actively engaged in the BUB process. Based on my research, as of May 2016 there were 215 organizations in the province. Although not all organizations were formed for BUB, it is clear that BUB encouraged more and more people to establish new ones. Some of the CSOs are the Siquijor Coconut Farmers Multi-Purpose Cooperative, Goat Raiser Association, Barangay Olave Neighborhood Electric Association, Handicapable Association of Maria, Lazi Habal-habal (motorcycle taxi) Drivers Association, and San Juan Souvenir Item Makers Association.

Some assessment reports on BUB say that the process does not work well in certain areas because of inactive CSOs and incompetent facilitators. In my interview with a facilitator who worked around Visayas, he said, “If governors or mayors are not cooperative with BUB, it’s very difficult to make it work. Especially in cases where they are [in] opposition to LP, projects are sometimes disturbed by political reasons.” Contrary to such cases, the BUB process in Siquijor has been relatively smooth and well organized. One reason seems to be that the governor and several municipal mayors have been members of LP since 2013. Another reason might be PPVR’s active facilitation of people’s participation. They kept propagating the utility value of BUB and urged people to propose projects. A member of PPVR said, “PPVR itself is not important. We are trying to become middlemen or mediators for people. Our mission is just making roads so that government projects can benefit people.”

As a result of this sort of effort, unique ideas were sometimes raised in LPRAP workshops. For instance, there was a project proposal for building a “People’s Center.” The rationale was written as follows:

As observed in the result of the NAPC BUB Workshop in the town of Siquijor, different sector representatives proposed programs that will solve identified issues. As such, there is a common necessity to have facilities to conduct these programs. However, it will not be that effective if these facilities are geographically dispersed. Therefore, we propose the People’s Center—a centralized facility that promotes coordination to the Youth, Women, Senior Citizen, PWD, Informal Sector, Fishermen/Farmer and CSO/Cooperative while at the same time, providing them spaces for their own programs and services. (Document obtained from a PPVR member)

The proposal included a handmade design (Fig. 2). This indicated that people were aggressively trying to utilize BUB projects for their community.


Fig. 2 A Hand-drawn Map of the People’s Center


Siquijor Province had 35 approved projects in 2013, 141 in 2014, 99 in 2015, and 58 in 2016. The projects were aimed at, for example, alternative livelihood high-value crop production, livestock and poultry production enhancement, organic fertilizer production, infrastructure support to agriculture and fishery production, computer literacy program for out of school youth, improvement of existing barangay health stations, and so on. Funds for the projects varied—from less than 20,000 pesos for small projects to one million to more than four million pesos for big ones. Because poverty reduction is a key purpose of BUB and many projects were livelihood related, the projects largely succeeded in diversifying sources of income and contributed to increasing income levels of the people.22)

This tangible change seems to have increasingly strengthened support for anti-dynasty forces. While BUB is a nonpartisan policy and has benefited pro-Fua residents as well, everyone knows that BUB was initiated by the Aquino administration and materialized by pro-LP parties such as PPVR. In this sense, as discussed below, the BUB program was also a new type of patronage. Therefore, it is easy to imagine that BUB consolidated the political base PPVR had established since 2011. The results of the 2016 elections were predictable in this context (Table 6). Although there was a split within LP, all candidates supported by the local anti-dynasty machinery again won the important positions.23) The Fua dynasty was decisively undermined by the accumulation of small efforts to improve people’s lives.


Table 6 Election Results in 2016


Joel Rocamora’s Role

So far the discussion has focused on how the LP machinery and BUB projects built their political base from the bottom up to confront the Fua clan. The democratic aspect or the “progressiveness” of the LP-Akbayan camp might have been overemphasized. Many readers may know that any major change in the Philippines’ political landscape could not take place in this way alone. Although participatory democracy operated well in Siquijor, this became possible only because national political power influenced local politics through personal relations. This section clarifies the role Rocamora played in defeating the Fua clan during the Aquino administration.24)

Rocamora was born in Siquijor. He worked as a political analyst in several institutions and was one of the founders of Akbayan. He had already begun to organize a small opposition group against the Fua family on the island before Aquino became president, but this first attempt did not succeed. The situation was changed drastically by Aquino’s victory in 2010. Because Rocamora and Akbayan worked hard for Aquino’s election campaign and then Akbayan became a coalition partner of the LP, some Akbayan cadres were invited to the cabinet. Risa Hontiveros, who was defeated in the senatorial election of 2010 by a narrow margin, was initially the candidate for secretary of NAPC, but she could not take the office because of the law prohibiting the appointment of a losing candidate to any office in government within one year after the elections in which s/he lost. Thus, instead of her, Rocamora was appointed as secretary of NAPC in September 2010.

According to Garry Rodan, NAPC was

established in 1998 with a legal mandate for selecting official representatives of the fourteen “basic sectors.” This gave NAPC representatives and its council official status in negotiating with government agencies and provided a venue for organized encounters between sectors and government. NAPC has remained one of the smallest state agencies, with a limited budget. Its opportunities thus rest principally on its relationship with other actors inside and outside the state. (Rodan 2018, 150)

Making use of this unique position, Rocamora first negotiated with the secretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways and asked him to check the flow of money to the Fua clan through public works. Because the Fuas’ main source of funds was embezzlement of money for public works, this move made it difficult for the clan to gain funds for the next elections. In addition, one day the secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Governance consulted Rocamora on whether a candidate for the local head of the department in Siquijor was adequate or not. The secretary asked, “Do you know him? Is he OK?”

Rocamora answered, “Yes, I know him. I recommend him to be appointed.”

While the man had seemed to be neither pro-Fua nor pro-LP, later he came to know he had been appointed partly thanks to Rocamora. This appointment also helped to block projects benefiting the Fua camp. Furthermore, when Rocamora talked with the regional police director in Siquijor, he said, “The instruction from on high is to help the LP win.” Then, during the election campaign, Rocamora told local police and military, “Money of the Fuas will go through this house and that house. So you deploy guards in front of the houses so that they cannot distribute money.”

As the secretary of NAPC, Rocamora facilitated several projects in Siquijor to build and vitalize CSOs. For example, he facilitated a project to set up community vegetable gardens. NAPC got mayors to approve a half-hectare for the project, then provided seeds and organic fertilizer, and had professionals teach farmers how to plant vegetables. After the first planting, the seeds went to the farmers. Now they can have vegetable gardens in their backyard. Instead of buying vegetables from Negros or Cebu, people are able to save money and expand their livelihoods by planting their own vegetables. Six hundred to 700 families were involved in this project. Rocamora said, “If you want to organize people, you have to be able to provide concrete things like fishing nets or vegetable gardens. That was the first time this kind of organizing took place in Siquijor.” Through these projects, NAPC set the stage for PPVR to work. Obviously, this direction was taken over and strengthened by the introduction of BUB.

Regarding Rocamora’s role in Siquijor politics, there are three points to note. First, the connection with the national government was crucial. As many other local clans do, the Fua clan switched its party affiliation to gain support from the national government. In the 2010 elections, the Fua family were in the Arroyo camp. After the Arroyos were defeated in the elections, they lost backing from the national government and the president. This allowed the new ruling parties, LP and Akbayan, to penetrate into the Fua clan’s bailiwick. As the Fua family had probably enjoyed until 2010, at this time LP and Akbayan were able to access material and immaterial resources provided by the national government. This was obvious in the roles played by Rocamora and NAPC in Siquijor. In this sense, John Sidel’s argument of “bossism” is valid here. His contribution to Philippine political studies was to clarify that the strength of local bosses relied on the state apparatus (Sidel 1999). Although the case of Siquijor is not predatory like Sidel’s case studies, it would have been more difficult for LP and Akbayan to win the local elections without an effective connection with the national government.

Second, Rocamora and the LP-Akbayan camp engaged in a kind of patronage politics. As mentioned in the previous section, formally BUB was designed as a nonpartisan policy. However, every voter regarded it as patronage from LP. When briefings on BUB were held in barangays, there were always big banners with pictures of Aquino’s face and his political slogan. Before the elections of 2016, Benjamin Diokno, the secretary of budget and management in the Duterte administration, said, “The Bottom-up Budgeting (BUB) program is being heralded by the Aquino administration as real reform; in reality, it is a tool for political patronage, a way of capturing political support at the grassroots level” (Editorial 2017). As noted in the comment by a BUB facilitator above, non-LP local leaders did not cooperate in materializing BUB projects. This was because they had no reason to assist LP in delivering patronage.25)

Third, personal connections exerted a big influence on the transformation of the political landscape. As mentioned above, LP-Akbayan’s local campaign became possible because Rocamora succeeded in dismantling the Fuas’ power base by using connections with secretaries of various departments. If he had not been a member of the cabinet and from Siquijor, things would have been very different.

All these aspects were characteristics of traditional Philippine politics. However, Rocamora and Akbayan were deeply aware of that. Responding to my interview, Rocamora said, “If you want reform, you have to operate in the old political terrain. No choice.” This pragmatic view was unique to Akbayan’s strategy, which was in sharp contrast with other leftist groups such as the Communist Party of the Philippines. Rocamora’s role in Siquijor politics was a clear example of this strategy.

However, there was some conflict over this strategy in the party. Although some reforms became possible under the coalition between Akbayan and the Aquino administration, this relationship led to a clash of opinions on how to deal with the administration. Akbayan members such as Ricardo Reyes and Walden Bello claimed that President Aquino was betraying his promise of “good governance” and pursuing neoliberal economic policies that were damaging to the poor. They asked the party to break up with Aquino in order to protect the party’s fundamental values and interests. However, the party leadership refused. Finally, Reyes and Bello left Akbayan. From a certain point of view, engaging in a pragmatic strategy means compromising one’s own principles. Making a coalition might change into cooptation. In this sense, operating “in the old political terrain” was risky.

Yet Rocamora was well aware of what Akbayan could do with political power. In my interview, he continued, “But once you win, then you can start to make changes.” After Akbayan won in the 2013 elections, he tried to transform the decision-making system:

In public works, all over the Philippines with few exceptions, decisions on what projects are funded are made by congressmen and a few government officials. Once we won in 2013, we began participatory broad infrastructure planning. We organized and invited the chamber of commerce, municipal mayors, church people and people from universities to come. And we discussed what projects we would build.

The culture of traditional politics cannot change overnight. Akbayan needed to accept that reality to win the elections. However, Rocamora and local activists in Siquijor believed that if they continued to make efforts to materialize participatory democracy, it would lead to genuine reform in the long term. This was the style of progressive politics in Siquijor that defeated a political dynasty.


After the collapse of the Fua clan’s domination, the economic situation in Siquijor changed a lot. Business investments from outside the province started to come to the island. Because investors had been disgusted over the bribes necessary to have their investment approved, the appearance of new local leaders was seen as the beginning of a fair business environment. The first supermarket in the province opened in Larena. While young people used to leave the island to find jobs, they could now work in their home province. Because the scholarship program was expanded under the Aquino administration, the rate of college enrollment on the island also increased. While a carpenter’s daily wage used to be 200 pesos, today it is 300 pesos due to the increased demand for labor.

In this paper, focusing on PPVR’s activities, utilization of BUB projects, and Rocamora’s role in Siquijor Province, I argued how a political dynasty’s power base was dismantled. It is now clear that if a political dynasty is not actively engaged in improving the lives of the people in its bailiwick and if it loses support from the national government, it is very vulnerable to a counterforce that tries to organize people with specific economic benefits and has connections with the national government. In a social situation where political and economic power is disproportionally distributed, democracy cannot be ensured by the representative system alone. It is indispensable to foster active CSOs and to encourage people to participate in the decision-making process in order to alleviate the tremendous inequality. In this sense, what the LP-Akbayan camp did in Siquijor can be called progressive.

The decentralization policy by the Local Government Code in 1991 has also been seen as one of the legacies of People Power because it includes the provision that promotes the participation of NGOs and people’s organizations in the local development process. From a different point of view, however, decentralization was a measure to win over local elites to the national government during the Cory Aquino administration and to help strengthen their domination in each locality (Abinales 2010, 398–399). Progressive forces were not able to deal with this situation because their vision to change the political structure focused only on the national level (Abinales 2010, 394–395). They did not understand the local dynamics of Philippine politics. However, looking into the case of Siquijor, Akbayan seems to have found a way to work effectively at the local level.

Certainly the structure of elite democracy was not broken up during Aquino’s administration. Overall, the administration’s anti-poverty and anti-corruption policies had incomplete results. It is well known that LP has many members from political dynasties (in this sense, we cannot regard LP itself as a progressive force). Nevertheless, it is also a fact that progressive forces such as local members of the LP-Akbayan camp in Siquijor have confronted the authoritarian system at the local level in a pragmatic way. This can be seen as People Power being part of a long democratization process. Philippine politics is not a changeless world. To grasp its dynamics, we need to pay more attention to local practices and the small changes they bring about.

Accepted: September 6, 2019


Abinales, Patricio N. 2010. National Advocacy and Local Power in the Philippines. In The Politics of Change in the Philippines, edited by Yuko Kasuya and Nathan Gilbert Quimpo, pp. 391–417. Manila: Anvil.

Akbayan. 2010. Engaging Noynoy: Exploring Akbayan’s Terms of Engagement with the Aquino Administration. Unpublished document.

―. 2009. General Program of Action. Unpublished document.

Bandayrel, Rafael; and Peregrino, Paulina. 2016. NAPC Chief to Beneficiaries: Defend BUB, Aquino Admin Reforms. Rappler, June 11., accessed July 30, 2016.

Bello, Walden et al. 2014. State of Fragmentation: The Philippines in Transition. Manila: Focus on the Global South.

Brillantes, Alex B. Jr. 2007. The Philippines: Civic Participation in Local Governance—Focus on Subnational Budgeting and Planning. In Participatory Budgeting (Public Sector Governance and Accountability Series), edited by Anwar Shah, pp. 49–66. Washington, DC: World Bank.

Claudio, Lisandro E. 2013. Taming People Power: The EDSA Revolutions and Their Contradictions. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Commission on Elections (COMELEC). 2016. 2016 National and Local Elections Statistics., accessed July 20, 2016.

―. 2010. Philippines 2010 Election Results., accessed September 12, 2019.

Coronel, Sheila S. et al., ed. 2004. The Rulemakers: How the Wealthy and Well-Born Dominate Congress. Pasig City: Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

DBM-DILG-DSWD-NAPC Joint Memorandum Circular No. 1 2012.

Editorial. 2017. Ben Diokno’s “Political Tool.” Philippine Daily Inquirer, December 22., accessed June 20, 2018.

Hau, Caroline S. 2016. People Power, Crony Capitalism, and the (Anti-) Developmental State. In Remembering/Rethinking EDSA, edited by JPaul S. Manzanilla and Caroline S. Hau, pp. 398–448. Mandaluyong City: Anvil.

Kawanaka, Takeshi. 2002. Power in a Philippine City. I.D.E. Occasional Papers Series No. 38. Institute of Development Economies, Japan External Trade Organization.

―. 1998. The Robredo Style: Philippine Local Politics in Transition. Kasarinlan 13(3): 5–36.

Manasan, Rosario G. 2015. Assessment of the Bottom-up Budgeting Process for FY 2015. PIDS Discussion Paper Series No. 2015-25.

Manzanilla, JPaul S. 2016. A Season for Remembering: People’s Power, Democratization, and the Memories of a Revolution. In Remembering/Rethinking EDSA, edited by JPaul S. Manzanilla and Caroline S. Hau, pp. 1–39. Mandaluyong City: Anvil.

McCoy, Alfred W., ed. 1994. An Anarchy of Families: State and Family in the Philippines. Manila: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Mohideen, Reihana. 2011. View from the Left: The Noynoy Aquino Presidency. In Transition: Focus on the Philippines Yearbook 2010, edited by Clarrisa V. Militante, pp. 69–76. Quezon City: Focus on the Global South-Philippines.

National Economic and Development Authority. 2008. Status Report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Using CBMS Data: Province of Siquijor.

Park Seung Woo. 2008. Oligarchic Democracy in the Philippines: Democratization Sans Disintegration of Political Monopoly. In States of Democracy: Oligarchic Democracies and Asian Democratization, edited by Cho Hee Yeon, Lawrence Surendra, and Eunhong Park, pp. 117–136. Mumbai: Earthworm Books.

Philippine Statistics Authority. 2015. Total Population by City, Municipality, and Barangay of Region VII—Central Visayas., accessed July 20, 2016.

Quimpo, Nathan G. 2008. Contested Democracy and the Left in the Philippines after Marcos. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Rappler. 2013. 2013 Election Results: Siquijor., accessed September 12, 2019.

Rocamora, Joel. 2013. How Did We Do It? On Bringing Down a Political Clan. Unpublished document.

―. 2010. Partisanship and Reform: The Making of a Presidential Campaign. In The Politics of Change in the Philippines, edited by Yuko Kasuya and Nathan Gilbert Quimpo, pp. 73–89. Manila: Anvil.

―. 1992. Siquijor Revisited: Hometown Politics Up Close. Conjuncture (June–July).

Rodan, Garry. 2018. Participation without Democracy: Containing Conflict in Southeast Asia. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

―. 2015. Conflict, Oppositional Spaces and Political Representation in Southeast Asia. In Routledge Handbook of Southeast Asian Democratization, edited by William Case, pp. 117–134. New York: Routledge.

Rosuelo, Raymund John P. 2017. The Erosion of the Political Dominance of an Entrenched Political Clan: The Case of the Felix Political Clan of Cainta, Rizal. Philippine Political Science Journal 37(3): 190–206.

Sabillo, Kristine A. 2015. Aquino Pushes Anti-dynasty Bill, Hits “One to Sawa” Proposal. Philippine Daily Inquirer, July 27., accessed July 30, 2016.

Sidel, John T. 1999. Capital, Coercion, and Crime: Bossism in the Philippines. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Tadem, Teresa S. Encarnacion. 2008. The Perennial Drift to the Right: Transition to Democracy in the Philippines. In States of Democracy: Oligarchic Democracies and Asian Democratization, edited by Cho Hee Yeon, Lawrence Surendra, and Eunhong Park, pp. 137–162. Mumbai: Earthworm Books.

Teehankee, Julio C. 2001. Emerging Dynasties in the Post-Marcos House of Representatives. Philippine Political Science Journal 22(45): 55–78.

―. 1999. Power Bequeathed: Generational Shift and Elite Reproduction in the 11th House of Representatives. Work in Progress (Institute for Popular Democracy Occasional Paper No. 16).

The Philippines, Department of the Interior and Local Government. 2014. Community-Based Monitoring System (CBMS) Data of Siquijor. Unpublished document.

Timberman, David G. 1991. A Changeless Land: Continuity and Change in Philippine Politics. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Tomsa, Dirk; and Ufen, Andreas. 2013. Introduction: Party Politics and Clientelism in Southeast Asia. In Party Politics in Southeast Asia: Clientelism and Electoral Competition in Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines, edited by Dirk Tomsa and Andreas Ufen, pp. 1–19. London: Routledge.

1) In general, the term “political dynasties” is defined as “traditional political families or the practices by these political families of monopolizing political power and public offices from generation to generation and treating the public elective officers almost as their personal property” (Park 2008, 120).

2) Aside from his well-known aspiration to be the next president, Binay was building his own political dynasty in Makati. This seemed to be another important reason why he wanted to lift term limits.

3) The EDSA Revolution was the popular political movement that toppled the dictatorship of President Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. It is also known as the People Power Revolution or February Revolution. This movement supported Corazon Aquino as the new president and led to the restoration of democracy in the Philippines.

4) The Liberal Party is the second oldest extant political party in the Philippines. Founded in 1946, it made up one side of the two-party regime together with the Nacionalista Party after independence and has produced many presidents, such as Manuel Roxas, Elpidio Quirino, and Diosdado Macapagal. While it has been led by wealthy elites, not a few members of the party are liberal and pro-development. Akbayan (Akbayan Citizens Action Party) is a social democratic party founded in 1998. Unlike the Communist Party of the Philippines, Akbayan has held an unfavorable opinion on armed struggle and focused on activities within formal democracy that revived after the EDSA Revolution. The party has had a few congressmen in each national assembly, mainly through party-list elections. Its main agenda is the pursuit of participatory democracy and participatory socialism.

5) Party-list election is a system that aims to ensure that marginalized sectors are represented in Congress. Twenty percent of seats in the House of Representatives are allotted to candidates from registered parties organized by various social groups such as indigenous people, urban poor, and peasants. Each party can get a maximum of three seats based on the rate of votes obtained.

6) Making the budgeting process transparent and participatory was a very important and long-awaited reform. However:

Despite the Local Government Code passed in 1991, experience has shown that engaging civil society in the budgetary process has yet been fully operationalized. Unlike civil society participation in subnational planning, civil society participation in subnational budgeting is still lagging behind. The Institute for Popular Democracy points out that “the budget process in many local governments across the Philippines remains prone to patronage, corruption and abuse of power, being highly dependent on informal processes and power relations within and outside the municipal building halls.” (Brillantes 2007, 56)

7) A fifth income class (out of six) is a province whose average annual income ranges from 90 million to 180 million pesos. The number of members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (municipal council) is determined by this classification.

8) “Officer-in-charge” refers to a temporary post in local government appointed by President Corazon Aquino to replace Marcos loyalists. This practice continued from the ouster of Marcos until the local elections in January 1988.

9) Julio Teehankee categorized political clans into three groups: traditional, new, and emerging. He placed the Fua family as an emerging political clan. He defined the categories as follows:

Traditional political clans are those who have had more than two generations that served in the legislature; and/or have been politically active since the American colonial, Commonwealth, and Post-War Republic periods (1907–1972); and mostly belong to the rural elite whose principal sources of wealth have been land ownership and export plantation agriculture. New political clans have had at least two generations serving in the legislature; and/or they rose to prominence during the period of Marcos’ constitutional authoritarianism (1972–1986). Most of them benefited economically from their close ties with the dictatorship. Emerging political clans also have had two generations in the legislature; and/or they emerged in the political arena during the post-EDSA period (1986–present). Most of them are middle-class professionals and entrepreneurs who entered politics during the Aquino and Ramos administrations. (Teehankee 1999, 17)

10) The Fua family had close ties with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in the 2010 elections. They ran under Lakas Kampi CMD, which is the party Arroyo belonged to.

11) In spite of this, it should be noted that Rodrigo Duterte won the 2016 presidential elections by negating Aquino’s appeal of a “straight path,” and Mar Roxas, who was endorsed by Aquino as his successor, was no match for Duterte. This indicates that Aquino’s legacy is not necessarily positive for many Filipinos.

12) Quoted from Karina Constantino-David’s for-internal-use presentation material “Opportunities and Constraints for Reform under the Aquino Administration.” While Constantino-David had an influence on the formation of PPVR, she established and managed independent civil society organizations during the Aquino administration. Therefore, she had no direct relation to politics in Siquijor.

13) Quoted from “Charter of People Power Volunteers for Reform,” an internal document of the organization.

14) Although there are only a few provinces where PPVR played a critical role in building effective electoral bases, it was more active in Negros Oriental than in Siquijor. With the LP camp splitting in the province, PPVR worked as an active organizer of election campaigns.

15) These are based on PPVR’s internal document “Officers Directory and Municipal Leaders Council (San Juan Municipal Chapter).”

16) These are based on PPVR’s internal document “Project Track Record and Activities (San Juan Municipal Chapter).”

17) Kalahi-CIDSS (Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services) is one of the poverty reduction programs led by the Department of Social Welfare and Development. It started in 2003 and was expanded under the Aquino administration.

18) Akbayan and PPVR did not establish any organizations formally affiliated with Akbayan from 2010 to 2016. All organizations that worked as the LP machinery were nonpartisan or explicitly showed the name of the LP. However, Akbayan members mainly ran those organizations. In this sense, the boundary between the LP and Akbayan was ambiguous. This seems to have been because Akbayan’s activists tried to make full use of the potential of their coalition partner as a pragmatic strategy.

19) While Aquino made an effort to reform the PDAF system, ironically, the biggest scandal that he faced during his term was a PDAF-related one. Aquino’s approval ratings began to decline after the misappropriation of huge amounts of PDAF money through fake NGOs was revealed in 2013. Although Aquino himself was not directly responsible for it, some Filipinos regarded him as incompetent in dealing with PDAF matters.

20) In the BUB process, civil society organizations are defined as including

non-government organizations (NGOs), People’s Organizations (POs), cooperatives, trade unions, professional associations, faith-based organizations, media groups, indigenous people’s movements, foundations, and other citizens groups formed primarily for social and economic development to plan and monitor government programs and projects, engage in policy discussions, and actively participate in collaborative activities with the government. (DBM-DILG-DSWD-NAPC Joint Memorandum Circular No. 1 2012, 4)

The Human Development and Poverty Reduction Cluster is an agency of the national government charged with implementing BUB together with the Good Governance and Anti-Corruption Cluster.

21) The LPRAP is

the LGU plan which contains programs and projects collectively drawn through a participatory process by the LGU with CSOs and other stakeholders, and which will directly address the needs of the poor constituencies and the marginalized sectors in the city or municipality. (DBM-DILG-DSWD-NAPC Joint Memorandum Circular No. 1 2012, 4)

22) Responding to my interview, a woman who was a leader of several associations in San Juan said that the daily income of the beneficiaries of BUB projects increased 20 percent on average due to diversified livelihoods.

23) Jay Pernes was a candidate who ran for congressman from LP in 2013. He was originally a doctor and later turned into a businessman. Because he had been working for a long time outside Siquijor island, he did not have any economic or corrupted bonds with the Fua family. He had a very good personality and strong sympathy with the Aquino administration’s anti-corruption, anti-poverty policy. Therefore, he was a promising candidate for the LP camp. However, just one day before the election in May 2013, he died of a heart attack. His wife, Marie Pernes, was hastily made a substitute candidate and won. However, the problem was that she was not as good a candidate as her husband had been. After she became a congresswoman, she and her local supporters became embroiled in an issue involving money. She insisted that the local machinery stole her husband’s money during the election campaign. In addition, she did not have any motivation to promote reforms or improve the lives of the people. Consequently, the local LP camp was not able to support her in the next elections. Nevertheless, the national LP headquarters gave her official recognition as a congressional candidate in the 2016 elections, only because she was an incumbent congresswoman. The local LP camp in Siquijor did not obey this and decided to support an independent candidate, Ramon Rocamora. Even though Marie Pernes ran from LP, the local LP machinery supported another candidate. That is why the winner of the congressman position in 2016 was an independent candidate, but the same machinery and the same local movement contributed to his victory.

24) This section is based on an interview of Joel Rocamora by the author.

25) However, a column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer called it “hypocrisy.” After he was appointed to his position, Diokno himself justified reallocating project funds in favor of allies of President Duterte and financially punishing opponents. Patronage politics persist in every administration. Although it is common to condemn patronage as “dirty politics,” there is no country where patronage does not exist between politicians and their constituency. A more realistic perspective for political studies is not to question whether something is patronage or not but to explore how patronage is used.


Vol. 8, No. 1, Yogi Setya PERMANA


Contents>> Vol. 8, No. 1

Politicizing the Fear of Crime in Decentralized Indonesia: An Insight from Central Lombok

Yogi Setya Permana*

* Centre for Political Studies, Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), Gedung Widya Graha, Jl. Jend. Gatot Subroto, Kav. 10, Jakarta Selatan 12710, Indonesia
e-mail: gejlikpermana[at]

DOI: 10.20495/seas.8.1_99

In the study of contemporary local politics and the dynamics of decentralization in Indonesia, there is insufficient research on how political actors integrate both psychologically and emotionally as a strategy to gain power at the local level. This paper explores the way in which the emotion labelled “fear of crime” embodies local power, specifically in the Central Lombok District of West Nusa Tenggara Province. Efforts have been made to investigate how the fear of crime emerged and was disseminated, as well as how the politics of fear appeared and functioned in a social setting. This paper argues that fear can be socially constructed through talk of crime and politicized in the context of local elections by elites through informal security groups or individual datu maling, two entities that I refer to as “fear entrepreneurs.”

Keywords: fear, crime, informal security groups, local politics, violence, local election


This study investigates the link between politics and the fear of crime. The author analyzes how elites in Central Lombok use fear when seeking power, such as in local elections for the heads of districts. Along with the implementation of decentralization and regional autonomy as well as direct local elections of local government heads (pemilihan kepala daerah or pilkada) in Indonesia after 1998, the dynamics of local politics have been in the spotlight in academic debates about political transition and democratization.

Scholarship on fear of crime and politics suggests several salient points on how the former influences power competitions such as elections. However, there has been no research scrutinizing the link between the fear of crime and the outcome of local electoral politics in Indonesia. Most studies of local politics in post-New Order Indonesia have focused on contestation among political actors at the local level who used various strategies, resources, and networks, including religious sentiment (Buehler 2016), vote buying and money politics (Aspinall and Sukmajati 2016), mobilizing kinship structures (Savirani 2016), bureaucracy (Choi 2014), customary institutions (Van Klinken 2007), women’s organizations (Dewi 2015), and violent vigilante groups (Wilson 2015; Bakker 2016).

However, research is lacking on how political actors use psychological and emotional strategies to gain power at the local level. The psychological factor referred to in this research is fear, especially the fear of crime. The fear of crime in post-Suharto Indonesian local politics has not been widely studied. This is surprising, as crime has been documented as being prevalent in Indonesian daily life. Based on data from the Central Bureau of Statistics (BPS 2016), the nationwide crime clock for 2015 reads 00.01″29″″, which means that a crime occurs every 1 minute 29 seconds.

Central Lombok is an appropriate place to more deeply investigate the link between electoral politics and fear of crime. This is because Central Lombok has a high crime rate and an extensive informal security network, both of which are conducive for disseminating the fear of crime. The issue of crime and the existence of informal security groups in Lombok’s political environment have been cited by scholars of the region. Although not explicitly discussing the link between the emotional aspect and electoral politics, prior studies provide significant insights into the existence of informal security groups in Lombok local politics. They explain how these groups intertwine with politicians to gain power in the region.

John McDougall (2007) conducted an in-depth observation of the intersection between underground crime networks and informal security groups such as AMPHIBI and Buru Jejak Kumpul. His empirical research has contributed to a contextual understanding of the emergence and political economy of violent groups in Lombok. His work also describes the economic networks in addition to historical and cultural insights into crime, particularly regarding theft in Lombok. J. J. Kingsley (2012) focuses on the link between religious leaders called Tuan Guru and informal security groups such as AMPHIBI and Hezbollah in local politics. Adam Tyson (2013) analyzes the effects of decentralization on the existence of a faith-based vigilante group named AMPHIBI. AMPHIBI has become significant in political contests where the organizational network can be used effectively as an instrument to mobilize political support. Kari Telle (2013; 2015) examines how informal security groups in Lombok obtain significant influence and recognition in social life so as to more easily access state resources.

Communities in Central Lombok District, where the primary livelihood derives from agriculture, encounter problems that threaten their assets, especially livestock. At the time of the political transition in 1998, the number of criminal cases in Lombok increased drastically—the number of cases registered in the Lombok court system doubled from 1997 to 1998 (Kristiansen 2003, 122). The social unrest during the political transition impacted the tourism industry in Lombok, which saw a decline in the number of foreign visitors. The unemployment rate on the island was high, with only 17 percent of workers employed in the formal sector (ibid.). This contributed to increased crime on the island. The police, as the state agency with authority over security, were relatively ineffective in dealing with burglaries. The number of thefts in Lombok remains high to this day.

When the state failed to provide adequate security, informal security groups emerged to fill that role. It is no coincidence that Lombok is reputed to have the highest number of informal security groups of any region in the Indonesian archipelago. The largest number of groups is located in Central Lombok, where approximately 25 percent of adult men are active members of such groups (McDougall 2007; Telle 2015). Lombok communities prefer informal security groups to resolve their security problems. Some members of these groups are also famous for their magical abilities that can allegedly be used against thieves. In the eyes of local communities, these informal security groups legitimately capture and punish thieves, conducting this community-sanctioned violence outside of state frameworks.

In a situation where there is a collective fear of crime, political actors who provide solutions to security problems become very influential in the community. Once direct local elections were introduced, individuals elected as district heads became closely connected to informal security groups. This background suggests that investigating how the fear of crime is employed in the local political context remains essential to exploring the ways in which fear of crime shapes local power. To fulfill this main objective, this paper will discuss how fear of crime is constructed in society and how the politics of fear emerges and functions in social life, as well as the ways in which the consequences of this fear have changed recently. I argue that fear can be socially constructed through talk about crime and politicized in local elections by the elites through informal security groups and individual datu maling, two entities that I refer to as “fear entrepreneurs.”

Theorizing the Linkages of Politics and Fear of Crime

Fear of crime can be applied as a source of legitimation for successful social and political control (Svendsen 2008, 111; Dammert 2012, 31). If crime can be converted to general political interests, it can become a crucial issue in elections. Response to crime is one of the most important criteria for evaluating a government’s performance (Dammert 2012, 31). Elites typically take advantage of public anxiety about crime to serve their political interests. In the West, politicians have often used the threat of crime to win support at election time. In the 1979 UK election Margaret Thatcher politicized the fear of crime to achieve victory. She used the tagline “Feeling safe in the streets” as a campaign theme that successfully attracted British voters (Jackson et al. 2006, 8).

Fear of crime as a topic of scholarly discussion and public debate began to appear in the 1960s (Furedi 2006; Jackson et al. 2006). In the decades until the 1980s, governments made a significant effort to understand and control this kind of fear, especially in the United States and United Kingdom (Jackson et al. 2006, 3). As US President Johnson noted in the presidential report on crime in 1965, the US government needed to conduct studies and surveys to gain a deeper understanding of this phenomenon. The observation was triggered by political and social contexts such as increasing social protests, racial discrimination, assassinations of political leaders, and the stigma about young, poor African Americans as perpetrators of crime (Dammert 2012, 29). A similar situation was observed in the UK, where inner city riots in the 1980s initiated massive media coverage of crime and its implications for British society (ibid., 30).

In the constructivist sense, fear is socially constructed through language. Humans circulate fear socially through language, using language to internalize and express their feelings about fear, particularly in their interactions with each other. This means that the experience of fear is different for humans compared to animals. Specifically, it means that a sense of danger can be communicated over a great distance. A distant danger can be accepted as a direct threat to human well-being. As communication of this kind of threat depends on words, which may be misinterpreted, human beings can end up creating an imaginary threat (Svendsen 2008, 25). In turn, this imaginary threat can create a fear that shapes cultural norms within a specific community. Fear influences how people organize their everyday life so that they can anticipate potential threats. Routine action to anticipate threats transforms into a standardized practice of living. Moreover, repetition of stories about fear can influence general perspectives on life. It is even possible for specific fears to become a culture’s basic characteristic (ibid., 19).

As fear is social and relational (Barker 2009, 267), it can be contagious (Svendsen 2008, 14)—that is, it can be transmitted socially. For instance, hearing the story of a criminal being discussed by other people can lead to feelings of fear (Barker 2009, 267). Fear is created from people’s testimony about threats. Moreover, people tend to exaggerate threat, with the consequence that rumors often portray danger as more acute than the actual situation warrants.

Like other forms of fear, fear of crime spreads in daily life through ordinary discourse, rhetoric, routines, and the mass media (Lupton and Tulloch 1999, 513). As suggested by Teresa Caldeira (2000, 19) in her research on “talk of crime” in Sao Paulo, Brazil, fear can arise from everyday conversations, commentaries, discussions, narratives, and jokes with crime as their subject. Thus, the general contagion effect of fear applies strongly in the fear of crime.

In his classic work on fear during the 1789 French Revolution, Georges Lefebvre (1973) emphasizes the role of what he calls “relays” in spreading the fear of crime discourse across a wider area. As he writes, fear could reach almost all the regions of France only because of the help of these relays, which included doctors, dancing masters, merchants, priests, couriers, postmen, municipal officers, military commanders, and militia members. Traveling up to hundreds of kilometers, these people distributed stories of crime to the people they met on their journeys (Lefebvre 1973, 161).

The talk, rumors, and even myths about crime that circulate in certain communities do not exist only in relation to crime. They also reflect the broader political situation (Lupton and Tulloch 1999, 512). Discourse about fear of crime influences how people define whom and what they should fear (Barker 2009, 267). Based on Caldeira’s research in Sao Paulo, public discourse through narratives of crime creates stereotypes and prejudices about groups of people called nortenos as being perpetrators of crime. Similarly, public discourse engineered by the ideology apparatus during Suharto’s New Order Indonesia created a long-lasting stigma toward former members of the Indonesian Communist Party, which was crushed in the bloodshed of 1965 (Heryanto 2006). They came to be perceived as ghosts that needed to be feared but eliminated at the same time. Thus, there is a need to understand how power is involved in constructing discourse, and it is essential to understand the political interests involved in the fear of crime discourse.

The Social Construction of Fear in Central Lombok: Talk of Crime

People in contemporary Central Lombok are concerned over the pervasiveness of theft. Not only livestock but also motorcycles are common targets of theft. Motorcycle theft occurs in all areas, including remote villages. In addition, people fear the sadistic behavior of thieves. The strong impression that the police are incapable of offering protection only serves to exacerbate people’s fears.

Based on statistics from the local police and the Statistics Office of Central Lombok District, theft cases consistently dominate Central Lombok’s list of crimes. Theft dominated the criminal case list for the entire Central Lombok region from 2004 to 2013. The highest percentage occurred in 2006, when theft accounted for 58 percent of the 52 types of criminal cases handled by police (BPS Lombok Tengah 2006, 274). In 2007, Central Lombok Police received 103 reports of motorcycle theft, of which only three cases were resolved as seen from Table 1. Table 1 shows that the high incidence of motorcycle theft continued until 2010, reaching 252 cases in that year. The police were able to resolve only 33 of these cases (BPS Lombok Tengah 2010, 233).


Table 1 Criminality Rate in Lombok Tengah District 2006–10


Limitations on the number of police personnel is often cited as a reason for their inability to overcome rampant motorcycle theft.1) Central Lombok Police officers numbered about 800 in 2013. They are responsible for security in a region with over 800,000 inhabitants (BPS Nusa Tenggara Barat 2014, 259). This ratio is well below the ideal ratio of 1:400 police to civilians specified by the United Nations.

However, the most crucial issue is people’s reluctance to report crime to the police due to complicated, long, and costly bureaucratic processes. Many victims of crime are ordinary farmers who rarely deal with bureaucratic systems and are consequently wary of involvement with the police. An exception to this is the increasing practice of hiring mediators to help victims at police stations. These mediators mostly come from NGOs and are already accustomed to dealing with police under the banner of “people’s advocacy.” People assume that asking for help from NGO activists will facilitate their dealings with the police.2) NGO activists are believed to ensure that the investigation process will be shortened and not involve any additional cost. Many local people believe that asking an NGO activist for help is much cheaper and easier than going to a police station on their own.3) They only give the activist a small amount of money or offer goods as a sign of gratitude, but they experience no coercion from the activist.

The rampant criminal acts committed by young thieves in Central Lombok frighten all members of society. Younger thieves are reputed to be more sadistic in the way they conduct their operations. There have been several cases of theft and robbery accompanied by sadistic violence. On July 29, 2015 cattle thieves (allegedly 10 individuals) killed a man named Sumirat in Kateng village when he attempted to pursue them. Sumirat was stabbed several times and sustained injuries on different parts of his body, including his hands, waist, chest, and thighs ( 2015).

Instead of information about crime being spread through mainstream communication channels such as television or newspapers, the primary medium for spreading fear is a traditional construction called the berugak. Berugak are usually located in front of the house and are used instead of a living room. There is no concept of a separate space for a living room in the architecture of traditional Lombok houses. Therefore, the berugak functions as a place to receive guests and strangers. The use of berugak is influenced by the high incidence of robbery or theft in Lombok, a pattern that has historical precedent. By receiving guests in the berugak, a householder reduces the opportunity for outsiders to see valuable property inside the house.

The berugak is a place to exchange information, including stories about criminal cases. Locals discuss brutal murders in these spaces, and this information passes from berugak to berugak in different villages. By the time they are delivered, most stories are already filled with distortions. Each person adds to or modifies the story based on their own interpretation. In berugak conversations I was often encouraged to share stories of crime related to the villagers’ experience. I discussed my concerns about the safety of personal belongings, especially after the theft that occurred in the house where I had been staying.

Berugak talk of crime not only spreads fear but also produces it. Everyone is free to speak about criminal cases with their own personal interpretation. Fact and fiction become mixed in berugak crime talk. People in berugak do not question the validity or accuracy of the crime stories they hear from others. On the contrary, everything is assumed to be true; people are more excited about discussing crime stories if they are more frightening than usual.

Recently, people in Central Lombok have been concerned with cases of violent criminal acts carried out during robberies. Thieves have not hesitated to hurt or even kill their victims. Residents in the village of Jago reported that they preferred to stay in their homes even if their neighbor was being robbed and screaming for help. They preferred to save themselves rather than helping to capture the thieves. An informant told me that a few nights after he had helped to capture a thief, his house was terrorized by the thief’s associates. He could not bear this intimidation and decided to go to Malaysia as a migrant worker.4)

A criminal case that was much discussed in berugak and attracted a great deal of public attention in Lombok was the heartless murder of Sumirat, mentioned above. Sumirat was an ordinary farmer from Kateng village, in the subdistrict of southwestern Praya. His killing caused great anxiety among residents because they felt that this sort of tragic incident could happen to anyone at any time.

People in berugak also discuss which areas are considered crime-prone or dangerous. These discussions can transform into intense debates. Everyone is free to agree or disagree with the opinions of others. Such talk can affect understandings of the level of security in a particular region. On one occasion in a berugak, I told people about my travels around the Central Lombok region, particularly the dam near Batujai village. Initially I thought it was safe as I did not experience any crime. However, people in the berugak warned me that the area was notorious for crime, especially motorcycle theft.

The stories discussed by people in berugak are passed on through families. Family members pass them on to neighbors, schoolmates, or friends in their prayer group. The stories spread quickly from house to house and village to village. In the end, berugak talk of crime can spread to the entire Central Lombok region. Distances between towns are small enough that residents meet each other easily.

With the high incidence of crime in Central Lombok, fear spreads quickly through discussions about crime, especially discussions held in berugak. Conversations about crime that are held in everyday life cause people to worry constantly. Although not everyone experiences crime directly or becomes a victim, the circulation of crime stories generates the emotion of fear. Berugak structures are a primary node for enabling the spread of fear, leading to a collective phenomenon. Fear in society has the potential to be exploited in local politics and provide benefits for certain political actors.

The Rise and Fall of Lalu Wiraatmaja a.k.a. Mamiq Ngoh, Kingpin of Central Lombok’s Informal Security Groups

When Lalu Wiraatmaja ran in the 2005 Central Lombok direct elections for local government head (pemilihan kepala daerah or pilkada), he understood very well the advantage of using informal security groups as part of his political machine. Better known by his nickname, Mamiq Ngoh, he was a pivotal figure in Central Lombok’s informal security groups. He was widely reputed to have a close relationship with Buru Jejak Kumpul. Mamiq Ngoh is an aristocrat from the Praya House of Nobles. He inherited a standing as the leader of the local aristocracy, and his family are traditional leaders in Central Lombok. The founder and leader of Buru Jejak Kumpul, Amaq Raisah, has been loyal to the Praya aristocratic families. Amaq Raisah’s family served as the trusted guards of Praya aristocrats in the past. Due to his influence, Mamiq Ngoh was appointed as the chairman of the Informal Security Groups Communication Forum when it was established in 2004. He became an adviser and protector of various informal security groups throughout Central Lombok.

Buru Jejak Kumpul is the oldest informal security group in Central Lombok. It has branches, called units, in hundreds of villages around the region. A coordinator leads each of the units, which have varying numbers of members ranging from the dozens to the hundreds. Unit coordinators use amateur radio to communicate with members who are spread across villages, and to communicate with headquarters in Bilelando village. They use amateur radio as it is cheaper and more efficient than other types of communication, including mobile phones. Radio amateurs only need electric power and an antenna. Buru Jejak Kumpul became an organization prototype that was subsequently imitated by other emerging informal security groups, such as Elang Merah (Red Eagle) and Pakem Sasak.

Local people request these groups to provide security for their cattle. However, there is a price to be paid. For each head of cattle, people pay an annual fee of 250,000 rupiah to Buru Jejak Kumpul. Thus, if a person has five head of cattle he has to pay 1.25 million rupiah annually. A cow is worth around nine million rupiah. In accepting this payment, informal security groups accept responsibility for the assets’ security. If cattle is stolen, the group is obliged to hunt down and recapture it. Protected clients are given a sticker with a Buru Jejak Kumpul logo to attach to the front of their houses. The group does not hesitate to use violence. Captured thieves are routinely taken to a location, usually the group’s headquarters, to face a “trial” and punishment. Most forms of punishment involve physical violence, such as amputating parts of the body or even extrajudicial killings.

Mamiq Ngoh became the point of reference for informal security groups, obtaining an influential position among them. He was the person to whom these groups would address complaints if they faced problems. Almost every night Mamiq Ngoh’s house was crowded with members of various informal security groups, who came with problems ranging from internal organizational issues to relationship difficulties among groups. Mamiq Ngoh did not hesitate to mediate between conflicting groups to make peace. He also frequently became a mediator for groups facing problems with local authorities and the police.5) This close relationship with informal security groups was the primary element in Mamiq Ngoh’s strategy of contesting in local elections.

Mamiq Ngoh was elected as the head of Central Lombok District in the 2005 local elections. This was the first direct election of a local government head in decentralized Central Lombok. Many leaders of informal security groups joined Mamiq Ngoh’s campaign team, some of them officially registered with the Regional Election Commission. Thousands of informal security group members demonstrated their explicit support for Mamiq Ngoh by escorting him when he registered as a candidate at the Regional Election Commission office (Lombok Post 2005). The informal security groups intimidated other candidates and their supporters with a series of public campaigns involving thousands of members. It was a public show of force in the streets of Central Lombok.

Informal security groups secured votes for Mamiq Ngoh at the grassroots level in ways other than the public show of force. It appears that Mamiq Ngoh used informal security groups to mobilize voters at the village level.6) He ensured that the population would vote for him through the network of informal security groups that spread into remote villages. His supporters did not hesitate to intimidate other candidates’ supporters, disrupting their campaigns.

Mamiq Ngoh also used security as a central propaganda element in his campaign to attract votes in Central Lombok villages. He used the citizens’ fear of criminal acts and theft as a way to attract support, creating the impression that he could ensure security in Central Lombok better than the other candidates could. Mamiq Ngoh himself cannot be separated from the image of a tough guy or jago. A member of his campaign team told me that Mamiq Ngoh had been a famous thug when he was young and fought with many people.7) This is why his supporters believed he was the only candidate who could deal with violent crime in the region.8) There was a strong belief that if the people wanted to be safe from crime, they should vote for Mamiq Ngoh.9)

By utilizing security as the central theme for campaign propaganda, Mamiq Ngoh aroused concerns among local people: they worried about their safety if they did not vote for him. They were intimidated by threats from members of informal security groups.10) If Mamiq Ngoh was defeated in a particular village’s election, that village would receive no protection from thieves. Voters understood that no one would provide security for them if they did not follow the group’s directions. Neither could any institution guarantee the safety of their cattle, apart from these informal security groups.

However, there were two factors that led to a dramatic decline in the number of votes for Mamiq Ngoh in 2010: the rivalry among informal security groups and public distrust over the issue of crime. Mamiq Ngoh’s image of providing a solution to the security problem was in tatters. The political machine that he previously relied upon, informal security groups, began to be viewed negatively. People started questioning their integrity when many thieves joined these groups and even sought their protection. Although the crime rate was still high, Mamiq Ngoh could no longer plausibly use it to attract votes.

Rivalry among informal security groups and public distrust over the issue of crime have led to a decline in the popularity of informal security groups over the last six years. Conflict among informal security groups is common as they each protect their members from thieves. Conflicts occur also when a thief belonging to a particular informal security group is caught by members of another group. The thief’s friends then demand his release. They do not hesitate to attack each other to protect their friends if caught. If the captured thief has already been subjected to violence, his friends take revenge. The rivalry among informal security groups was triggered also by Mamiq Ngoh’s favoritism toward Amaq Raisah when it came to resource distribution. According to several informants from informal security groups, Mamiq Ngoh paid attention to channeling resources (such as financial support) only to Amaq Raisah. He showed no concern for other groups even though they had also contributed to his 2005 success. This led to dissatisfaction among several informal security groups.

It can be seen that the social position of informal security groups has drifted a long way from their original rationale. The initial purpose of the groups was community-based self-protection, as police could not be relied upon to provide effective security against crime and theft. Gradually many thieves themselves became members of these groups.11) A thief whom I interviewed claimed he had joined various informal security groups.12) He joined them because he wanted protection from other groups. He was afraid of the violence and torture that was inflicted by members of informal security groups on captured thieves. He took care of his obligations to other group members, such as paying a certain amount of money at particular times. Local sources told me that thieves were initially allowed to join the groups so that they could be controlled; however, in the end this was impossible.13) The informal security groups ended up supporting the thieves.

After thieves began to join informal security groups, members of the public increasingly came to doubt the integrity of the groups. Initially the public supported the presence of informal security groups, as they believed they would provide protection despite their brutal behavior. However, public distrust developed as the groups began providing shelter for thieves, who continued their depredations. Theft and crime continued, but this time they also involved informal security groups, either directly or indirectly.

Widespread public distrust of the informal security groups was not beneficial for Mamiq Ngoh’s political career. Informal security groups were the backbone of his 2005 campaign: he won votes by portraying himself as a figure capable of restoring security to Central Lombok. As a patron of informal security groups in Central Lombok, he could not be separated from the presence of these groups. When doubts arose regarding the integrity of informal security groups, this also eroded trust in Mamiq Ngoh. This distrust reflected the fact that the crime rate did not diminish significantly after he became district head. Theft still dominated the criminal cases handled by police one year after Mamiq Ngoh had been elected (BPS Lombok Tengah 2006, 274). The high rate of motorcycle theft lasted until the end of Mamiq Ngoh’s term in office in 2010. The police managed to solve only 33 cases of motorcycle theft out of the total of 279 cases in the entire Central Lombok region (BPS Lombok Tengah 2010, 233).

The Changing Contours of the Security Landscape: The Existence of Datu Maling

Things have been different from the early 2000s, when people no longer completely trusted informal security organizations but rather shifted their hopes to individual figures who were considered to have more integrity. These individual figures, popularly known as datu maling, tend to avoid affiliation with any particular informal security organization. Therefore, they can be more independent and flexible in determining their political direction.

A datu maling is a senior thief who has stopped stealing. He is usually someone who was renowned for courage and strength when still active as a thief in his youth. With the protection and security they provide, datu maling are influential as local strongmen in the neighborhood, both in everyday social life and in politics. Datu maling also protect the population in inter-village conflicts, often leading villagers who want to attack another village. Therefore, they are respected not only by the local people but also by younger thieves.

The strong influence of datu maling in Central Lombok relates to Lombok’s historical precedent of defining thieves as respected and feared persons. This situation may have resulted from the Balinese occupation of Lombok in the precolonial period. Lombok people could not resist the Balinese in the eighteenth century, and Balinese aristocrats consolidated their power over large areas of Lombok (Van der Kraan 2009, 5). In these circumstances the theft of Balinese property emerged as a form of resistance, with thieves targeting the property of Balinese nobles. During the Balinese occupation the people of Lombok did not consider stealing a criminal act. Thieves were regarded as taking back their property (reclaiming rights) that had been forcibly taken from them by Balinese aristocrats.

This historical precedent from the time of the Balinese occupation has influenced present-day local perspectives toward stealing. As some of the informants pointed out, the Balinese occupation enabled the development of local values—particularly among Sasak men—which place a premium on efforts to seize something rather than asking for it. Stealing or theft became a sort of initiation process into adulthood for some people. Stealing is highly appreciated since it requires courage, strength, and self-defence capabilities. Within this context, men with practical skills to steal things are thus perceived to be capable of looking after a family. While this argument might not represent the whole picture of local perspectives on stealing, it is not rare to find such a point of view among Sasak men. Hence, regardless of historical and sociological accuracy, it provides some of them with cultural justification for stealing.

The work of datu maling is similar to that of informal security groups when it comes to providing security services to residents. According to my local informants, people who want to secure their livestock (such as cows) make a mutual agreement with datu maling. These agreements include profit sharing. This sharing between the client and the datu maling is varied in form and usually agreed on through a process of negotiation. Usually the datu maling receives a share of the fees from the sale of livestock. The client also provides the datu maling with household goods such as cigarettes and sugar each week, in addition to an extra bonus once a year on Eid Al-Fitr.14) If a motorcycle is stolen, the client asks the datu maling to track it. The types of people who use a datu maling for security services are not just local farmers and ordinary villagers; many of them come from the highly educated middle class. An informant who works as a lecturer at the local university shared that he had asked a datu maling for help securing his cattle in the village.15)

With their position as protectors and providers of security, datu maling have become highly respected and feared figures. Therefore, these individuals have symbolic capital that allows them to earn money and prosperity even though they have retired from stealing. In some villages in the southern regions of Central Lombok, several datu maling have noticeably large houses compared to their neighbors. Their houses are mostly located in prime locations, such as on a hilltop. This reflects the respect that datu maling receive from local society.

Their symbolic capital brings datu maling financial benefits not only from ordinary people but also from the political elite. With their respected social status, individual datu maling become reference points for local people when choosing their political orientation. In the current Indonesian electoral system, candidates who run for election take advantage of notable figures such as datu maling to mobilize votes. A datu maling will ask residents in the neighborhood, and the people whom he protects, to vote for a particular candidate. This arrangement is similar to those of informal security groups in the past. People worry that if they refuse the directions of a datu maling their safety will be threatened. Datu maling can be described as “vote brokers” who are ready to mobilize votes on demand. Candidates in direct local or legislative elections lobby for datu maling to join their campaign team, and they compete to get the largest number of datu maling on their team. Candidates who have many datu maling on their team are more confident of winning.

However, datu maling are quite different from informal security groups when it comes to loyalty to particular political figures. A datu maling is not tied to a single patron or political figure, as was the situation with informal security groups, especially the Buru Jejak Kumpul group. Datu maling’s political calculations are based on pragmatism and profit. Informal security groups operated under an organizational banner, so they were relatively dependent and inflexible in their political maneuvers. In contrast, datu maling operate alone, without any specific organizational label, and without hundreds of members to be accommodated. Thus, a datu maling experiences more freedom and independence in determining his political preferences.

The independent political orientation and pragmatism of datu maling can be illustrated by the case of Mamiq Rahman (pseudonym). In the 2005 Central Lombok election he supported Mamiq Ngoh, who was elected as district head. However, in the 2010 election Mamiq Rahman shifted his support to Suhaili even though he came from southern Central Lombok, a region considered to be a support base for Mamiq Ngoh. As Mamiq Rahman revealed to me, Suhaili himself came to Rembitan village to ask for his support, inviting him to join his campaign team.16) Suhaili provided financial assistance and campaign equipment to Mamiq Rahman for use in the village. Suhaili’s personal visit to Mamiq Rahman’s house was effective in changing his political orientation. Suhaili was more serious about approaching Mamiq Rahman than Mamiq Ngoh, whom Mamiq Rahman had supported in the 2005 election. Mamiq Rahman ended up asking villagers to follow his decision to vote for Suhaili rather than Mamiq Ngoh. He told the people he could not ensure Rembitan’s security if they did not vote for Suhaili. Since the region where Rembitan village is located is prone to criminality, many local people there worry about security. In the end Suhaili won in the village, and Mamiq Rahman received a payment and was invited to a celebration at Suhaili’s house.17)

Datu maling provide support to politicians or candidates who offer the most attractive deal. Based on information from my local sources, the pay-off varies from money and recognition to protection and legal assistance.18) Therefore, money is not the only objective sought by datu maling. A local politician told me that the deal he made with the datu maling who supported him in the election for local parliament members in 2014 was not based on financial assistance. Rather, it was based on protection.19) By his admission, he did not give money to any of the datu maling. Instead, some of the datu maling contributed to financing his nomination process.20) Those datu maling hoped that if a politician was elected they would obtain assistance for any legal problems. Almost all datu maling have low education levels, so they feel they need help from politicians in any legal process. They also want to receive recognition from society. Politicians are expected to help datu maling gain recognition, for instance, by arranging public events that involve them.

Preliminary Conceptualization of Fear Entrepreneur

The Central Lombok case is an example of how some people use fear of crime as a strategy to gain an electoral advantage. These people seek both financial benefits and political privileges. In Central Lombok, security, which should be a public good provided by the state, has been “privatized” by certain individuals and groups. Individuals and informal security groups sell security to those who are willing to become customers. These security sellers do not hesitate to use violence in their work. In this way, private individuals have largely replaced the state as a legitimate entity by monopolizing violence. Violent civil groups seem to enjoy legitimacy to perform acts of violence against criminals in the name of public security.

Individual figures or groups that provide security services are not unique to Lombok. They can be found in many places in Indonesia, such as Jawara in Banten and Forum Betawi Rempug in Jakarta. Political changes that occurred after the fall of Suharto resulted in the state losing significant control as the center of power over violence and coercion. Social groups took on the state’s role when it came to controlling violence, positioning themselves on the blurred line between legal and illegal activity (Bakker 2015).

Mainstream explanations for the emergence of these so-called vigilante groups suggest they are a consequence of the political transition after the New Order ended and democratization policies—such as decentralization and local direct elections—were implemented (Hadiz 2010, 133; Wilson 2015, 2). The most prominent explanations present them as predatory vigilante groups seeking economic resources, especially in the informal economy. Whereas criminal gangs in Suharto’s era were generally perceived as unconnected to religious groups, in the Reformasi era observers became conscious of criminal gangs with an overtly Muslim orientation and notions of morality. They adapted to the new political system to maximize the profits from predatory economic objectives and express their political ideology (Wilson 2008).

However, previous explanations are not adequate to portray specific practices that occurred in the Central Lombok case. Hence, I prefer the term “fear entrepreneur.” Like business entrepreneurs, fear entrepreneurs aim to collect as much profit as possible. Individual figures such as datu maling and informal security groups use people’s fear for the sake of accumulating benefits, which include money and other privileges. Within this system, they can achieve prosperity and access to political elites. Through established relations with politicians, they can access resources from governmental authorities.


Fear is not only a consequence of the body’s biological or metabolic workings but is also socially constructed. Fear of crime can spread collectively. Fear became contagious and spread in Lombok through the “talk of crime” that took place, especially in the berugak. These berugak were scattered in many places. Local people discussed stories, rumors, and even gossip about theft and criminality. Even if they had not experienced criminal action directly, people involved in such talk became afraid. Through the talk of crime, the discourse about crime and theft (including considerations of what constituted crime and how it should be responded to) were discussed freely. Berugak were a primary node that enabled fear to spread widely, so that it became a collective phenomenon.

In 2005 informal security groups seemed to be the dominant force in Central Lombok electoral politics. They were both a source of fear and an assurance to the public of protection against greater fear. They have not disappeared, but they have fragmented and no longer form a coherent political bloc. They were undone by the contradiction between their criminal role and their role as protectors against criminality. Datu maling have taken their place, but the same contradiction applies to these newly important figures. It is expected that they too will become less significant in the future.

In conclusion, politicians must fulfill the demands for civil groups in the context of decentralization and direct local elections. Ultimately, people at the grassroots level are the most disadvantaged. By relying on private individuals and organizations for public requirements like security, they are vulnerable to abuses of power. The state should be able to provide decent security services and monopolize the use of legitimate violence, in line with the principles of democracy and human rights.

Accepted: August 16, 2018


Aspinall, Edward; and Sukmajati, Mada, eds. 2016. Electoral Dynamics in Indonesia: Money Politics, Patronage and Clientelism at the Grassroots. Singapore: NUS Press.

Bakker, Laurens. 2016. Organized Violence and the State: Evolving Vigilantism in Indonesia. Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land-, en Volkenkunde 172: 249–277.

―. 2015. Illegality for the General Good? Vigilantism and Social Responsibility in Contemporary Indonesia. Critique of Anthropology 35(1): 78–93.

Barker, Joshua. 2009. Introduction: Ethnographic Approaches to the Study of Fear. Anthropologica 51(2): 267–272.

BPS (Badan Pusat Statistik) [Central Bureau of Statistics]. 2016. Terjadinya tindak pidana (crime clock) menurut kepolisian daerah, 2000–2015 [Crime clock according to regional police, 2000–2015]. Jakarta: BPS–Statistics Indonesia.

BPS (Badan Pusat Statistik) Lombok Tengah [Central Bureau Statistics, Central Lombok]. 2010. Lombok Tengah dalam angka 2010 [Central Lombok in 2010]. Praya: BPS–Statistics of Central Lombok District.

―. 2006. Lombok Tengah dalam angka 2006 [Central Lombok in 2006]. Praya: BPS–Statistics of Central Lombok District.

BPS (Badan Pusat Statistik) Nusa Tenggara Barat [Central Bureau Statistics, West Nusa Tenggara]. 2014. Nusa Tenggara Barat dalam angka 2014 [West Nusa Tenggara in 2014]. Mataram: BPS–Statistics of West Nusa Tenggara Province.

Buehler, Michael. 2016. The Politics of Shari’a Law: Islamist Activists and the State in Democratizing Indonesia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Caldeira, Teresa P. R. 2000. City of Walls: Crime, Segregation and Citizenship in Sao Paulo. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Choi, Nankyung. 2014. Local Political Elites in Indonesia: “Risers” and “Holdovers.” Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia 29(2): 364–407.

Dammert, Lucia. 2012. Fear and Crime in Latin America: Redefining State-Society Relations. New York: Routledge.

Dewi, Kurniawati Hastuti. 2015. Indonesian Women and Local Politics: Islam, Gender and Networks in Post-Suharto Indonesia. Singapore: NUS Press.

Furedi, Frank. 2006. Culture of Fear Revisited: Risk-Taking and the Morality of Low Expectations. London: Continuum.

Hadiz, Vedi R. 2010. Localising Power in Post-authoritarian Indonesia: A Southeast Asia Perspective. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Heryanto, Ariel. 2006. State Terrorism and Political Identity in Indonesia: Fatally Belonging. New York: Routledge.

Jackson, Jonathan; Farrall, Stephen; and Gray, Emily. 2006. The Provenance of Fear: Experience and Expression in the Fear of Crime. Working Paper No. 2, London School of Economics.

Kingsley, J. J. 2012. Peacemakers or Peace-Breakers? Provincial Elections and Religious Leadership in Lombok, Indonesia. Indonesia 93(1): 53–82.

Kristiansen, Stein. 2003. Violent Youth Groups in Indonesia: The Cases of Yogyakarta and Nusa Tenggara Barat. Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia 18(1): 110–138.

Lefebvre, Georges. 1973. The Great Fear of 1789: Rural Panic in Revolutionary France. Translated by J. White. London: Armand Colin.

Lombok Post. 2005. Mamiq Ngoh dikawal ribuan pendukung [Mamiq Ngoh is escorted by thousands of supporters]. April 15.

Lombok 2015. Rampok bantai peternak sapi, curi sapi lalu bunuh pemiliknya [Robbers slaughter cattle owner, steal cattle, then kill owner]. July 30., accessed October 20, 2015.

Lupton, Deborah; and Tulloch, John. 1999. Theorizing Fear of Crime: Beyond the Rational/Irrational Opposition. British Journal of Sociology 50(3): 507–523.

McDougall, John M. 2007. Criminality and the Political Economy of Security in Lombok. In Renegotiating Boundaries: Local Politics in Post-Soeharto Indonesia, edited by H. Schulte-Nordholt and G. Van Klinken, pp. 281–304. Leiden: KITLV Press.

Permana, Yogi Setya. 2015. Politicising the Fear of Crime in Decentralised Indonesia: A Case Study in Central Lombok District. Sub-thesis, Master of Arts, Australian National University.

Savirani, Amalinda. 2016. Survival against the Odds: The Djunaid Family of Pekalongan, Central Java. South East Asia Research 24(3): 407–419.

Svendsen, Lars. 2008. A Philosophy of Fear. London: Reaktion Books.

Telle, Kari. 2015. Policing and the Politics of Protection on Lombok, Indonesia. In Policing and the Politics of Order-Making, edited by Peter Albrecht and Helene Maria Kyed, pp. 40–54. New York: Routledge.

―. 2013. Vigilante Citizenship: Sovereign Practices and the Politics of Insult in Indonesia. Bijdragen tot de Taal, Land, en Volkenkunde 169: 183–212.

Tyson, Adam. 2013. Vigilantism and Violence in Decentralized Indonesia. Critical Asian Studies 45(2): 201–230.

Van der Kraan, A. 2009. Lombok: Penaklukan, penjajahan, dan ketèrbelakangan 1870–1940 [Lombok: Conquest, colonization, and underdevelopment, 1870–1940]. Translated by D. Supanra. Mataram: Lengge Printika.

Van Klinken, Gerry. 2007. Return of the Sultans: The Communitarian Turn in Local Politics. In The Revival of Tradition in Indonesian Politics: The Deployment of Adat from Colonialism to Indigenism, edited by Jamie S. Davidson and David Henley, pp. 149–169. New York: Routledge.

Wilson, Ian D. 2015. The Politics of Protection Rackets in Post-New Order Indonesia: Coercive Capital, Authority and Street Politics. New York: Routledge.

―. 2008. As Long as It’s Halal: Islamic Preman in Jakarta. In Expressing Islam: Religious Life and Politics in Indonesia, edited by Greg Fealy and Sally White, pp. 192–210. Singapore: ISEAS.

1) Interview with Lalu Sugiartha, Security and Intelligence Office–Central Lombok Police, May 29, 2013.

2) Interview with Ikhsan Ramdhani, local NGO activist, July 3, 2015.

3) Interview with Ikhsan Ramdhani, local NGO activist, July 3, 2015.

4) Interview with Jago village resident, confidential name, June 30, 2015.

5) Interview with Mamiq Ngoh, Central Lombok District head 2005–10, May 29, 2013.

6) Interview with former secretary of Buru Jejak Kumpul, confidential name, June 4, 2013.

7) Interview with a former member of Mamiq Ngoh’s campaign team, confidential name, July 3, 2015.

8) Interview with Bustomi Taefuri, a former NGO activist and politician, July 3, 2015.

9) Interview with a local journalist, confidential name, July 31, 2015.

10) Interview with a local journalist, confidential name, July 31, 2015.

11) Interview with Lalu Syamsir, former state prosecutor and vice chairman of West Nusa Tenggara Province Legislative Council 2009–14, June 23, 2015.

12) Interview with a criminal perpetrator who had just been released from prison, confidential name, June 27, 2015.

13) Interview with Lalu Syamsir, former state prosecutor and vice chairman of West Nusa Tenggara Province Legislative Council 2009–14, June 23, 2015.

14) Interview with Alfian, lecturer at Universitas Mataram, July 1, 2015.

15) Interview with Alfian, lecturer at Universitas Mataram, July 1, 2015.

16) Interview with Mamiq Rahman (pseudonym), a datu maling, July 31, 2015.

17) Interview with Mamiq Rahman (pseudonym), a datu maling, July 31, 2015.

18) Interview with a member of the legislative council from southern Central Lombok, confidential name, July 12, 2015.

19) Interview with a member of the legislative council from southern Central Lombok, confidential name, July 12, 2015.

20) Interview with a member of the legislative council from southern Central Lombok, confidential name, July 12, 2015.


Vol. 4, No. 3, CHONG

Contents>> Vol. 4, No. 3

Local Politics and Chinese Indonesian Business in Post-Suharto Era

Wu-Ling Chong*

*鍾武凌, Department of South East Asian Studies, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Malaya, 50603 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

e-mail: chong.wu.ling[at]; chong.wu.ling[at]

This article examines the relationships between the changes and continuities of Indonesian local politics and Chinese Indonesian business practices in the post-Suharto era, focusing on Chinese Indonesian businesses in two of the largest Indonesian cities, Medan and Surabaya. The fall of Suharto in May 1998 led to the opening up of a democratic and liberal space as well as the removal of many discriminatory measures against the Chinese minority. However, due to the absence of an effective, genuinely reformist party or political coalition, predatory political-business interests nurtured under Suharto’s New Order managed to capture the new political and economic regimes. As a result, corruption and internal mismanagement continue to plague the bureaucracy in the country and devolve from the central to the local governments. This article argues that this is due partially to the role some Chinese businesspeople have played in perpetuating corrupt business practices. As targets of extortion and corruption by bureaucratic officials and youth/crime organizations, Chinese businesspeople are not merely passive and powerless victims of corrupt practices. This article argues, through a combination of Anthony Giddens’s structure-agency theory as well as Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of habitus and field, that although Chinese businesspeople are constrained by the muddy and corrupt business environment, they have also played an active role in shaping such a business environment. They have thus played an active role in shaping local politics, which is infused with corruption and institutionalized gangsterism, as well as perpetuating their increasingly ambivalent position.

Keywords: Indonesia, Chinese Indonesians, Chinese Indonesian business, local politics, democratization, regional decentralization

Susanto, a Chinese Indonesian living in Medan, is a distributor of stuffed toys. He runs his business from a shophouse located in the central city area. He started his business in 2003, and the business has remained small-scale. He brings in stuffed toys from Jakarta and sells them to customers in Medan. He has 15 employees working for him, most of whom are indigenous Indonesians.

Susanto revealed to me that after the end of the New Order regime, the central government has become stricter in collecting taxes from business enterprises. Business owners need to declare their revenues, calculate the taxes they have to pay, and make payments accordingly. Tax officers later visit the companies to check their actual revenues. If they find that the business owners have under-reported their revenue, instead of penalizing them, the tax officers usually ask for bribes to cover up the tax fraud. Susanto emphasized, however, that even if a business owner has paid all the necessary taxes, tax officers usually create fictive taxes and charges and request the business owner to pay accordingly. Moreover, tax officers often demand higher bribes from businesspeople who are ethnic Chinese, as they are deemed to be doing better than other businesspeople. For this reason, Susanto and many local Chinese businesspeople have found it expedient not to declare their actual revenues, knowing that honesty does not pay and will lead to even more taxes and bribes. Instead, they wait for the officers to visit and negotiate with them the rates of the taxes and bribes requested and only then pay their taxes. In my interview with him, Susanto said, “Although many other businesspeople and I feel bad about it, we have no choice but to pay them [the bribes] since we have to survive.”1) Susanto also revealed that he and other Chinese businesspeople preferred not to fight against the extortion because they were “afraid of running into trouble” (Mandarin: pa mafan, 怕麻烦) if they did so. They would rather pay the bribes to avoid any further problems. This indicates also that Chinese businesspeople possess enough economic capital to pay the bribes in order to protect their business.

Susanto’s story indicates the ambivalence among Chinese toward democratization in post-Suharto Indonesia. Although democratization has opened spaces for them to live their culture and express their ethnicity, it has not led to the emergence of good governance that promotes the rule of law, transparency, and accountability, as corruption remains endemic in state institutions. This poorly developed democratization creates, therefore, an even more ambivalent situation for Chinese Indonesian businesspeople. On the one hand, they remain the targets of extortion and corruption by power holders; on the other hand, they play a role in perpetuating the corrupt, predatory political-business system. It is also important to note that the local business environment in post-Suharto Indonesia is crucially influenced by local politics, especially after the implementation of regional decentralization in 2001. If corrupt practices plague the local government, this will certainly lead to a corrupt and muddy business environment. Moreover, if institutionalized gangsterism is dominant in a particular locality, the local business community will encounter more harassment and extortion.

This study shows that Chinese Indonesian businesspeople in Medan encounter more harassment and extortion than their counterparts in Surabaya, because institutionalized gangsterism is dominant in Medan. However, it is important to note that although Chinese Indonesian businesspeople in Surabaya do not experience as much harassment and extortion, they still play a crucial role in perpetuating the corrupt local business environment. In this article, I look at how local politics that is infused with corrupt practices and institutionalized gangsterism has led to the emergence of a corrupt and muddy business environment in post-Suharto Medan and Surabaya. I also examine how such a business environment has influenced the ways Chinese Indonesian businesspeople in both cities advance and safeguard their business interests as well as deal with illegal practices by government officials, police, and preman (thugs or gangsters). I argue that in facing the corrupt and muddy business environment, due to the fear of the hassle of fighting back, as well as the economic and social capital they possess, Chinese Indonesian businesspeople on the whole tend to give in to the illegal requests of government officials, police, and preman; they also resort to illegal or semi-legal means as well as opportunistic tactics to gain wealth and protect their business interests. Although there are Chinese businesspeople who fight against the illegal practices, they are rare. This collusion with corrupt practices in turn reinforces negative stereotypes against the Chinese and consequently perpetuates their ambivalent position as well as corruption in local politics.

It is hoped that the case studies in this paper constitute a pioneering representation of Chinese Indonesian business communities in urban centers of post-Suharto Indonesia—primarily Medan and Surabaya, because both are big cities with a relatively high percentage of ethnic Chinese Indonesians. The dynamics of Chinese Indonesian business communities in post-Suharto urban Indonesia are therefore apparent in this study.

This article is divided into 10 main sections. The first section deals with theoretical issues. The second focuses on research methodology. The third section looks at the economic role of ethnic Chinese in post-Suharto Medan and Surabaya. Next, I turn my attention to local governance and the business environment in post-Suharto Indonesia as well as the experiences of Chinese Indonesian businesspeople in Medan and Surabaya. I point out that Chinese big business as well as Chinese small and medium businesses deal with the new business environment in different ways. Then I discuss the changes in the political environment and the political activism of Chinese Indonesian businesspeople in the post-Suharto era. In the remaining four sections, I examine the illegal and semi-legal business practices utilized by Chinese Indonesian businesspeople in both cities to safeguard their business interests. I conclude that there is evidence to suggest that Chinese Indonesian businesspeople in Medan and Surabaya continue to encounter rampant corrupt practices in bureaucracy as well as harassment and extortion from local power holders and youth/crime organizations (in Medan) since the end of the New Order. Using Anthony Giddens’s concept of structure and agency, and Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of habitus and field, I argue that such a corrupt, predatory political-business system continues to exist not only because the predatory political-business interests nurtured under the New Order managed to capture the new political vehicles and institutions, but also because many, if not most, local Chinese businesspeople play a role in perpetuating the system.

Theoretical Framework

This study adopts a combination of Anthony Giddens’s structure-agency theory as well as Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of habitus and field as a framework for examining strategies and tactics that Chinese Indonesians adopt to safeguard their business interests in the post-Suharto era. Both Giddens and Bourdieu perceive social actors as agents that actively respond to and shape their social structures. Giddens argues that our social reality is shaped by both social forces and active human agency. All people are knowledgeable about the conditions and consequences of their actions in their daily lives. Although people are not entirely free to choose their own actions, they do have agency (Giddens 1984). Therefore, Giddens sees social structures as both the medium and the outcome of the actors’ actions:

As human beings, we do make choices, and we do not simply respond passively to events around us. The way forward in bridging the gap between “structural” and “action” approaches is to recognize that we actively make and remake social structure during the course of our everyday activities. (Giddens 1989, 705, emphasis in the original)

Habitus, according to Bourdieu, is a system of acquired dispositions through which people deal with the social world (Bourdieu 1990a, 131). Bourdieu also notes that “[a]s an acquired system of generative schemes, the habitus makes possible the free production of all the thoughts, perceptions and actions inherent in the condition of production” (Bourdieu 1990b, 55). In other words, habitus is an orientation to individual action. The concept of field complements the idea of habitus. A field is a relatively autonomous arena within which people act strategically, depending on their habitus, to enhance their capital. Examples of fields include politics, religion, and philosophy (Bourdieu 1993, 72–74). Bourdieu considers habitus to be the union of structures and agency: “. . . habitus operates as a structuring structure able to selectively perceive and to transform the objective structure [field] according to its own structure while, at the same time, being re-structured, transformed in its makeup by the pressure of the objective structure” (Bourdieu 2005, 46–47). In other words, habitus shapes the objective structure (field) but at the same time is also shaped by the objective structure. This concept is parallel to Giddens’s structure-agency theory. One of the significant strengths of Bourdieu’s notion of habitus lies in its consideration of actors’ social positions in the study of habitus; this is never discussed in Giddens’s theory. Bourdieu argues that a person’s habitus is structured by his or her position within a social space, which is determined by his or her sociological characteristics in the form of volume and kinds of economic capital, cultural capital, and social capital possessed (Bourdieu 1984, 114; 1998, 6–8). Economic capital refers to material resources that can be turned into money or property rights. Cultural capital refers to non-material goods such as types of knowledge, skills and expertise, educational credentials, and aesthetic preferences acquired through upbringing and education that can be converted into economic capital. Social capital refers to networks of contacts that can be used to maintain or advance one’s social position (Bourdieu 1986).

According to Bourdieu, actors who are well endowed with capital and therefore enjoy privileged positions in a particular field tend to defend the status quo in order to safeguard their capital, whereas those least endowed with capital and therefore occupying the less-advantaged positions within the field are inclined to challenge the status quo via subversion strategies in order to enhance their capital and improve their social positions (Bourdieu 1993, 73).

Hence, this is the theoretical framework for this study: Social structures constrain and enable actors’ actions. Actors’ actions are always oriented by their habitus, which is dependent on the volume and kinds of capital possessed. Those who are well endowed with capital in a social structure tend to defend the status quo of the structure in order to safeguard their capital and position, whereas those least endowed with capital within the structure are inclined to challenge it via subversion strategies.

Methods of Research

My analysis is based on fieldwork conducted from July 2010 until May 2011 in Medan and Surabaya.2) Medan and Surabaya were selected as field sites for this study since both cities are economically and politically significant. These cities are the capitals of North Sumatra and East Java respectively, which have been “the sites of vibrant urban and industrial centers” (Hadiz 2004, 623). Medan is a historically important town for plantations, manufacturing, and trade, while Surabaya is a vital port city that functions as a gateway to Eastern Indonesia (Buiskool 2004, 1; Hadiz 2004, 623). According to City Population, an online atlas, Medan and Surabaya were the fifth- and second-largest cities in the country respectively in 2010 (City Population 2012). Both cities also have a significant Chinese Indonesian population: according to the Indonesian Population Census of 2000, the concentration of the Chinese Indonesian population was 10.65 percent in Medan and 4.37 percent in Surabaya,3) figures that are much higher than the percentage of Chinese Indonesians in the total population of Indonesia (1.2 percent) (Aris et al. 2008, 27, Table 2.2). The methods used in this research are library research and individual interviews. I conducted library research at public as well as university libraries. I also interviewed or had personal communications with 12 Chinese Indonesian businesspeople, three politicians, one journalist, eight NGOs or social activists, one leader of the North Sumatra branch of Pancasila Youth (PP, Pemuda Pancasila), seven staff or people in charge of local Chinese-language presses, six academics or university lecturers, and one former staff of a real estate company in Surabaya’s Chinatown (see Appendix). All interviews and personal communications were conducted in Indonesian, Mandarin, Hokkien, or English. All names of informants used in this article, except for public figures, are pseudonyms.

The Economic Role of Ethnic Chinese in Post-Suharto Medan and Surabaya

Sofyan Wanandi (1999), Michael Backman (2001), and Charles A. Coppel (2008) have pointed out that it is commonly asserted that ethnic Chinese control 70 percent of Indonesia’s economy, although official data on the economic domination of Chinese in Indonesia is unavailable. These authors emphasize that such a view is an exaggeration because a large portion of Indonesia’s economy (such as the oil and gas industry) has always been under the control of the state, not the Chinese (Wanandi 1999; Backman 2001; Coppel 2008). In addition, the sociologist Mely G. Tan (陈玉兰) argues that it is impossible for the Chinese minority, who constitute less than 3 percent of the total population in Indonesia, to control 70 percent of the national economy.4) Wanandi suggests that Chinese Indonesian businesses constitute only 25 percent of the national economy, while Backman estimates that Chinese Indonesians “control 70 percent of the private, corporate, domestic capital” (Wanandi 1999, 132; Backman 2001, 88).

In the post-Suharto era, Chinese Indonesians continue to play a crucial role in the economic development of Medan and Surabaya. Since there is no official data available specifically on the economic domination of Chinese Indonesians, I had to rely on individual interviews to obtain information on this aspect. According to an NGO activist in Medan, Chinese Indonesians in the city dominate businesses that are medium-sized and larger, such as manufacturing, food production, and hotels. At the same time, domination of businesses that are medium-sized and smaller is split almost evenly between Chinese and indigenous businesspeople. Businesses that are small and micro are dominated by indigenous businesspeople.5) In addition, three other NGO activists disclosed that Chinese businesspeople engage in nearly all sectors of the economy in Medan except the construction industry, which is dominated by indigenous businesspeople who are Batak and members of youth/crime organizations.6) This is because most construction projects in Medan are local state projects that are usually allocated to members of youth/crime organizations who are well connected to the local government.7) A local economic analyst in Surabaya remarked that Chinese businesspeople dominate 100 percent of the manufacturing business and about 90 percent of the real estate business in the city. In addition, more than 60 percent of bankers and about 70 percent of advertisers in Surabaya are Chinese Indonesians.8) In short, based on the information provided by my informants, Chinese Indonesians continue to dominate the private economy of Medan and Surabaya in the post-New Order era.

Local Governance and Business Environment in Post-Suharto Indonesia

In order to accommodate growing regional and local demands for greater autonomy in access to local resources and control of local political machines, the post-Suharto government introduced regional decentralization and local autonomy policies under two umbrella laws, Law No. 22/1999 and Law No. 25/1999. These laws were later revised and replaced with Law No. 32/2004 and Law No. 33/2004. Under the decentralization laws and regulations, significant administrative powers in industry, trade, investments, agriculture, public works, transport, cooperatives, labor, land, health care, education and culture, and environmental issues transferred from the central government to regional and local governments (Ariel and Hadiz 2005, 261; Hadiz and Robison 2005, 233; Widjajanti 2009, 76). According to the scholar-bureaucrat Ryaas Rasyid, who was appointed by President Habibie to form a group known as the Team of Ten (Tim Sepuluh) to formulate the decentralization laws and regulations, “The [decentralization] policy was intended to provide more scope for local creativity and initiative in making policy and promoting public participation” (Rasyid 2003, 64). Therefore, it can be said that in the context of Indonesia, one of the objectives of regional decentralization is to promote democratization at the local level.

Moreover, international and domestic organizations such as the SMERU Research Institute, the World Bank, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have been actively offering policy advice on decentralization of state authority in the country. The SMERU Research Institute sees regional decentralization as a huge administrative operation that could improve weaknesses in the administration of central and local governments (Syaikhu 2002). The World Bank believes that decentralization will break up stifling central government authority, reduce complex bureaucratic procedures and administrative bottlenecks, as well as “increase government officials’ sensitivity to local conditions and needs” (World Bank Group, n.d.). A USAID publication argues that decentralization will stimulate the development of democratic, accountable, and effective local governance (USAID Office of Democracy and Governance 2000, 7). In particular, the Asia Foundation assists local governments in addressing inefficiencies in the business licensing process and reducing the cost of doing business in Indonesia through developing the One Stop Shops (OSS) program. OSS are service centers that handle applications for various business permits (Steer 2006). As stated in an article that introduces the program, “[OSS] are new institutions that merge authority from disparate technical departments into one office where licenses and permits can be obtained quickly” (ibid., 7).

However, according to some scholars, the end of authoritarianism and the subsequent opening up of politics, as well as the introduction of regional decentralization, have not led to the emergence of good governance that is able to deploy public authority and public resources in a regularized manner for public purposes. Both Marcus Mietzner and Jamie S. Davidson point out that corruption and internal mismanagement continue to characterize the bureaucracy in the country (Mietzner 2008, 244–248; Davidson 2009, 294). Due to the absence of an effective, genuinely reformist party or political coalition, the demise of Suharto’s New Order regime did not end the rampant corruption and internal mismanagement in the country’s bureaucracy. According to Vedi R. Hadiz and Richard Robison, the predatory political-business interests nurtured under the New Order managed to reconstitute and reorganize themselves successfully within the new political and economic regimes. Newly decentralized and competing predatory interests contest to gain ascendancy at the local level of politics as regional decentralization has created new rent-seeking opportunities for local governments (Hadiz and Robison 2005, 232). In other words, corruption, or what Indonesians generally call KKN (the Indonesian-language acronym for corruption, collusion, and nepotism), has devolved from the central to local governments.

For instance, during my fieldwork in Medan, the OSS program, which was established with the aim of addressing the licensing process and reducing the burden on business, actually created more burdens for local businesspeople. According to a news report in Harian Orbit, a local Indonesian-language newspaper in Medan, officials at the center often demand bribes by asking for “service charges” from applicants. If the applicants refuse to pay, they need to wait a long time before getting their permits (Harian Orbit, November 15, 2010). For instance, applicants for a business permit (SIUP, Surat Izin Usaha Perdagangan) need to pay an extra Rp.150,000 of unofficial “service charge” to the officials in order to get a permit on time (ibid.). Such incidents have been highlighted in the press, and the then Medan Mayor Rahudman Harahap said he would summon the persons in charge of the OSS (Harian Orbit, November 16, 2010). But as of December 2013, the local government had not yet investigated the problem and such corrupt practices were still rampant in the OSS of Medan (Batak Pos, December 5, 2013).

Although Joko Widodo, a politician who does not have any ties to the New Order regime, was elected as the new president of Indonesia in 2014 and promised to improve and simplify business licensing procedures in government offices, the House of Representatives is dominated by parliamentarians who favor Prabowo Subianto, Widodo’s only opponent in the presidential election (The Jakarta Globe, October 9, 2014; October 28, 2014). Subianto is a former general who used to be Suharto’s son-in-law.9) He was accused of human rights violations when he was a general (Tomsa 2009). Subianto’s supporters in the House of Representatives declared that they would block every policy made by Widodo. Hence, it might not be easy for Widodo to deliver on his promise to address the licensing process and reduce the burden on business.

In addition, scholars have noted that the implementation of regional decentralization in Indonesia has produced many regional heads who behave like “little kings” (raja-raja kecil) in the sense that they perceive decentralization and autonomy as meaning more power given to them to control local resources and raise revenues rather than as greater responsibility for them to offer better public services to their local constituencies. These “little kings” are unaccountable to central authorities, local parliaments, or local citizens (Azis 2003, 3; Hofman and Kaiser 2004, 26; 2006, 97; Firman 2009, 148). Since the decentralization law went into effect, local governments in Indonesia have had more power to tax the local population in order to raise revenues. According to my informants, the imposition of new taxes has increased the burden on local businesspeople, particularly those running small or medium businesses.10) The local governments in Medan and Surabaya have been levying new taxes and charges on businesses as a means to increase direct revenues, as well as to extract indirect revenues in the form of bribes. Moreover, officials at all levels of government—central, provincial, and local—claim ultimate authority over many kinds of investment activity (Hadiz and Robison 2005, 235–236). This increases unpredictability in business, as well as the necessity to further the common practice of bribing officials for licenses and the like.

At the end of 2010, the Committee of Monitoring for Regional Autonomy (KPPOD, Komite Pemantau Pelaksanaan Otonomi Daerah), an NGO in Indonesia that monitors the implementation of regional autonomy in the country, announced that North Sumatra and East Java, where Medan and Surabaya are located, had more problematic local regulations issued by the city and kabupaten governments than all the other provinces. The committee proposed that 315 local regulations in North Sumatra and 291 local regulations in East Java should be abolished because they were deemed to hamper business activities in the provinces. Nevertheless, as of 2011, the city and kabupaten governments of North Sumatra and East Java had only repealed 98 and 91 of the problematic regulations respectively (Jawa Pos National Network, February 23, 2011).11)

Therefore, it can be said that local politics in North Sumatra and East Java is infused with corruption. However, it is also important to note that there is a significant difference between the two provinces in regard to local politics: the dominance of institutionalized gangsterism in North Sumatra. In other words, youth/crime organizations are influential and dominant in North Sumatra. According to Vedi R. Hadiz (2010), such organizations exist also in Surabaya but are much less dominant. As the capital of North Sumatra, Medan is notorious for its institutionalized gangsterism or premanism and is therefore known as a gangster city (kota preman) (Honna 2011). The origins of preman go back to the 1945–49 Indonesian National Revolution and the late 1950s. According to Ian Wilson, during the revolution strongmen and toughs were at the forefront of the struggle for Indonesia’s independence. Many of them were later incorporated into the new national military (Wilson 2010, 201). In 1954 General Nasution, the head of the armed forces, “deployed networks of gangsters and former militias as part of a campaign to pressure Sukarno into suspending parliamentary democracy, eventually ushering in the period known as ‘Guided Democracy’” (ibid.).12) Pancasila Youth (PP, Pemuda Pancasila), the largest quasi-official youth/crime organization, was formed out of this alliance. In the mid-1960s, the military mobilized PP and local gangsters to confront and crush suspected members of the Communist Party (Ryter 2000, 19; 2001; 2002; Hadiz 2004, 626). Former Governor of North Sumatra Syamsul Arifin, interviewed in The Act of Killing—a 2012 documentary film about the anti-communist genocide—acknowledged the important role of gangsters in eliminating communism in Indonesia: “Communism will never be accepted here, because we have so many gangsters, and that’s a good thing” (cited in the subtitles of Oppenheimer 2012). Under Suharto the institutionalization of local gangsters was further intensified (Wilson 2011, 242). Apart from PP, other quasi-official youth/crime organizations, such as the Army Veterans’ Youth (PPM, Pemuda Panca Marga) and Armed Forces Sons’ and Daughters’ Communication Forum (FKPPI, Forum Komunikasi Putra-Putri Purnawirawan Indonesia), were formed to help maintain political order and stability through violence and intimidation (Ryter 2001; 2005, 22; Beittinger-Lee 2009, 164). These organizations are generally considered to be “fronts for preman activity” (Hadiz 2003, 125–126) and were usually backed and protected by the military during the New Order period (Ryter 2000, 20). Thus, such organizations are also known as “preman organizations” (Wilson 2010, 200). (Hereafter, the terms “youth/crime organizations” and “preman organizations” will be used interchangeably.) Therefore, it can be said that the distinction between preman, soldier, politician, and criminal is often blurry.

After the unraveling of the New Order regime, despite losing their main backer, preman have been able to survive by taking advantage of the inability of the post-New Order regimes to maintain security and the opportunities opened up by competitive electoral politics as well as regional decentralization. Many political parties have established their own paramilitary wings or civilian militia known as satgas parpol (satuan tugas partai politik, i.e., political party militias). Members come mostly from youth/crime organizations such as PP and “[mercenaries] of the disenfranchised urban milieu” (King 2003). Moreover, preman still dominate the protection racket scene in Indonesia.

As ethnic Chinese are often deemed wealthier than other residents in Medan, they become the target of extortion for preman (Hadiluwih 1994, 159). It is also common for local Chinese Indonesian businesspeople in the city to rely on extralegal resources such as preman for their security and protection (Purdey 2006, 117). Preman in Medan are mostly members of major New Order-nurtured youth/crime organizations such as PP, Work Service Youth Association (IPK, Ikatan Pemuda Karya), and FKPPI. When the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P, Partai Demokrasi Indonesia-Perjuangan) became the ruling party after winning a majority of national parliamentary seats in the 1999 elections, they formed Satgas PDI-P as the paramilitary arm of the party to compete with the other more established youth/crime organizations in Medan in controlling local state and private resources (Hadiz 2003, 128).13) Although satgas were banned in 2004, they later revived in a less formal way (Wilson 2010, 204–205). In other words, there are more preman organizations in Medan now than before the fall of Suharto.

Indeed, according to Hadiz, the collapse of the Suharto regime did not reduce the influence of local preman linked to youth/crime organizations in Medan, but instead brought new opportunities for them to exploit (Hadiz 2004, 626). These preman are able to provide muscle for candidates during election periods and fund political bids since they dominate lucrative underworld businesses (Hadiz 2003, 128). In addition, many leaders of youth/crime organizations are given opportunities to run local branches of political parties. Some even hold local parliamentary seats and top executive body positions in local government (ibid., 125–126). For instance, during 1999–2004, three members of the Medan city parliament—Bangkit Sitepu (Golkar), Moses Tambunan (Golkar), and Martius Latuperissa (Justice and Unity Party)—were leaders of the local branches of preman organizations. Sitepu, Tambunan, and Latuperissa led the Medan branches of PP, IPK, and FKPPI respectively (Ryter 2000, 19–21; Bambang 2002; Hadiz 2005, 47). Besides that, Ajib Shah, the former chairperson of PP’s North Sumatra branch, is a member of the North Sumatra provincial parliament who was affiliated to Golkar during 2009–14 (Harian Mandiri, May 11, 2012; Harian Sumut Pos, April 23, 2013; Medan Bisnis, August 29, 2013). He was also one of the candidates in Medan’s 2010 mayoral election (Pancasila Youth of North Sumatra’s website, 2010). Therefore, it can be said that members and leaders of local youth/crime organizations in Medan have captured the new local state institutions and political vehicles in the Reformasi era.

This is felt by some of my informants who are local Chinese businesspeople in Medan, who say they have encountered more harassment and extortion from preman in the post-Suharto era, especially during Megawati’s presidency (2001–04).14) A few of my informants disclosed that preman often ask for “protection money” from businesspeople who own factories or shophouses, and if the latter do not pay up the preman vandalize these places.15) To further squeeze money from these businesses, when an owner or their employees load or unload goods in front of their shophouse, preman again force their loading or unloading services on the business. Usually they charge Rp.500–1,000 per item of goods. Even if the business owner or their employees refuse such service, they still need to pay the preman, who will otherwise vandalize their shophouses.16) In addition, preman ask for Rp.300,000–500,000 when a businessperson opens a new company in their area; and if a shophouse is renovated, the owner also needs to pay a certain amount of money to preman.17) Moreover, whenever preman organizations have installation events, they send an “invitation” with a proposal for expenses to be paid by businesspeople and ask for “donations.” Normally, businesspeople need to pay them at least Rp.10,000–20,000.18) Some Chinese businesspeople need to pay uang keamanan (protection money) to more than one preman if there is more than one youth/crime organization that claims authority over that particular area.19) As a “service” to industrialists, preman also help to break up strikes.20)

It is important to point out that preman demand uang keamanan also from indigenous businesspeople.21) But my informants disclosed that they often ask for more uang keamanan from businesspeople who are ethnic Chinese as the latter are deemed to be doing better in business than their non-Chinese counterparts.22)

Why do preman ask for money from the business community? According to the chief of PP’s North Sumatra branch, there are too many unemployed citizens in Indonesia. If they join “youth” organizations such as PP, the organizations arrange for them to help in taking care of the safety of business areas and let them collect money from the businesspeople.23) The sociologist Usman Pelly and criminologist Mohammad Irvan Olii, as interviewed by Gatra and The Jakarta Globe respectively, made a similar argument that poverty and unemployment are the main causes of premanism (Sujatmoko et al. 1995, 27; The Jakarta Globe, February 24, 2012). According to another source, the unemployment rate in Indonesia reached 6.8 percent in 2011, and more than half the population were living on less than US$2 per day in the same year. In addition, more than 65 percent of workers in the country were employed informally (Brooks 2011).24) Poverty and the failure of the Indonesian government to create sufficient employment opportunities for its citizens are seen by many as the main causes of the rampancy of such extortion.

Informants told me that preman have become less active since President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (2004–14) came to power because the police have become more powerful and have started to arrest preman who extort money from the business community.25) This corresponds to findings by other scholars working on Indonesia (Aspinall et al. 2011, 33; Wilson 2011, 257–258). According to Wilson, high-profile anti-preman campaigns were initially run by the police in 2001 and were limited only to Jakarta, but they became national in scope by 2004 (Wilson 2011, 257). Aspinall and his co-authors, on the other hand, remarked that the influence of IPK, which was once a dominant youth/crime organization in Medan, has declined since the death of its founder, Olo Panggabean, in 2009 (Aspinall et al. 2011, 33).26) The diminution of IPK’s power is due also to a police crackdown on illegal gambling run by the organization. Although the power of preman organizations in the city has declined markedly, it is alleged that business enterprises in certain areas such as Jalan Asia and Jalan Gatot Subroto still encounter harassment and extortion from preman.27)

In Surabaya, on the other hand, youth/crime organizations such as PP and FKPPI are much less dominant and influential. In addition, IPK, which is based in North Sumatra, does not have a presence in East Java. Preman who offer “protection” for Chinese business premises in Surabaya are often unorganized Madurese preman. According to Dédé Oetomo (温忠孝), an ethnic Chinese social activist in Surabaya, there is a system of mutual dependence between Chinese businesspeople and Madurese preman in Surabaya. Chinese businesspeople usually pay about Rp.500,000 a month to the Madurese preman in exchange for protection of their business.28) The preman make sure that the business premises in their territories are free of burglary, theft, robbery, and vandalism.29) Such a system of mutual dependence existed in the city even before the demise of the New Order regime. Although unorganized, Madurese preman normally allocate their territories among themselves so that each area has only one preman in charge of its “safety.” Since in general Chinese businesspeople in Surabaya need to pay only one preman in exchange for protection of their business premises, it can be said that they enjoy a relatively peaceful business environment compared to their counterparts in Medan who need to deal with more preman organizations in the post-Suharto era, and pay more than one preman if there is more than one youth/crime organization that claims authority over that particular area.

In addition, according to Jun Honna (2010, 148) and Hadiz (2010, 156), industrialists in Surabaya often hire Madurese preman or members of Banser, the vigilante corps of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the largest mass-based Muslim organization in Indonesia, to break up strikes. NU has a strong base in East Java.

In Surabaya, military and police units are more dominant than youth/crime organizations and Banser in the control of underworld activities. According to Hadiz, it is alleged that the military act as immediate protectors and bodyguards for illegal gambling operations controlled by Chinese Indonesians in Surabaya. Furthermore, navy and marine units in the city are said to have direct links with local prostitution (ibid., 140).30)

It is ironic, therefore, that in attempting to control preman activities, the police have started acting like preman. According to an NGO activist in Medan, local police officers often extort money from businesspeople in the city, especially those who own factories; such incidents have become more rampant, especially throughout the anti-preman campaigns.31) Police officers pay a visit to the factory and ask for money. If the business owner refuses to pay, the police coerce him or her to admit to offenses that he or she did not commit and threaten to close down the factory. Sometimes the police even confiscate machines in a factory if the business owner refuses to pay them.32) Wilson suggests that such phenomena indicate that some police “have used the campaigns as an opportunity to reclaim sources of illegal rent extraction taken from them by street level racketeers” (Wilson 2011, 257). A well-established Chinese businessperson in Medan even remarked that:

During Suharto’s reign, the military was the most powerful institution. Since the fall of Suharto, the military is not as powerful as before. Now the police are more powerful. They often ask for money from businesspeople and will give us a hard time if we refuse to pay them. So the police are no different from a select group of scoundrels.33)

Similarly, in Surabaya, the police often ask for money from local businesspeople, who are mostly ethnic Chinese. According to an informant who used to work in a real estate company in Surabaya’s Chinatown, whenever the police have an event they ask for contributions from businesspeople in their area. If the businesspeople refuse to pay, the police give them a hard time when the former ask for police help.34) In addition, Junus, a university professor in Surabaya, told me that the police often visit nightclubs and discos (which are mostly run by Chinese businesspeople) and ask for a “protection fee.” If the owners refuse to pay, the police conduct a raid and threaten to close down the premises.35)

It is important to note that Chinese big business or conglomerates and Chinese small and medium businesses react and adapt to the corrupt and muddy business environment in the post-Suharto era in different ways. Christian Chua (2008) in his work on Chinese big business in post-Suharto Indonesia points out that Chinese big business or conglomerates manage to deal with the murky business environment well because they have experienced staff to identify and approach the right persons in different political departments, and sufficient capital to bribe regional decision makers. The wealth and strong social networks of Chinese big businesspeople also enable them to establish close ties with local power holders and security forces. Chua further notes that some Chinese big businesspeople establish close links with youth/crime organizations and through such connections have their own vigilante groups at their command. Some control or intimidate critical media through financial coercion to ensure favorable reporting on them and their business. In these ways their businesses are well protected. My study, as will be shown with a few examples later in this article, confirms Chua’s research findings that Chinese big business or conglomerates are in an advantageous position when dealing with the new business environment, which is—paradoxically—more infused with corruption and uncertainties. However, as mentioned, my study also shows that Chinese businesspeople running small or medium businesses generally do not have the necessary economic and social capital to establish close ties with local power holders, local security forces, and preman. Most of them choose to give in to the illegal requests of government officials or preman to prevent further hassles.

Changes in Political Environment and Political Activism of Chinese Businesspeople

The opening up of the political space after the fall of Suharto was followed by an explosion in the cost of election campaigning. Therefore, as Chua (2008) reveals in his work, in the era of Reformasi, those who want to contest and win in general or local elections need to pay large amounts of campaign funds. Consequently, aspiring power holders need to seek harder for the support of rich businesspeople, who can make considerable financial contributions to their political activities and campaign fund. Chinese Indonesian business elites are therefore deemed to be important sources of income for political parties that need significant electoral campaign funds to win local elections. In return, the former often expect to receive political protection, kickbacks, or other benefits should the candidate get elected. In addition, since the advent of competitive electoral politics, it is too risky for Chinese business elites to offer funding for only one particular candidate during general elections. Hence, some hedge their bets by sponsoring more than one candidate, thus creating a higher chance that they will have supported someone who will be elected into office, whom they can seek favors from. For example, during the 2004 presidential elections, it was alleged that Tomy Winata, the owner of the Artha Graha Group, financed the campaigns of both Megawati and Yudhoyono.36) Chua (ibid.) notes that certain Chinese business family members “carefully split their political loyalties” (ibid., 126). For instance, Sofjan Wanandi, the owner of the Gemala Group,37) backed Yudhoyono, while his brother, Jusuf Wanandi, who was a board member of the Jakarta Post, used the daily to secure support for Megawati. Mochtar Riady, the founder and owner of the Lippo Group,38) backed opposition leaders, while his son, James Riady, supported the actual power holders.

My field study in Medan and Surabaya shows similar findings. For example, Yahya, a university professor in Surabaya, disclosed that Alim Markus (林文光), the owner of the Maspion Group in the city, funded three out of five pairs of candidates during the first direct gubernatorial election in 2008, although he was well connected to only one candidate pair: Soekarwo-Saifullah Yusuf. The other two candidate pairs were Soenarjo-Ali Maschan Moesa and Kholifah Indar-Mudjiono.39) The election was eventually won by the Soekarwo-Saifullah Yusuf pair.

Likewise, in Medan, according to a Chinese Indonesian city parliamentarian, many well-established Chinese businesspeople sponsor candidates (usually incumbents) who are deemed to have better chances of winning in general or local elections, in order to get political protection for their own business.40) For instance, during Medan’s mayoral election in 2010, although many Chinese big businesspeople funded the Rahudman Harahap-Dzulmi Eldin pair as Rahudman was the incumbent acting Medan mayor and was deemed to have a higher chance of winning, they also offered to sponsor Sofyan Tan (陈金扬), a well-known social activist, who was also the only ethnic Chinese mayoral candidate, and his running mate after they won the second-highest number of votes in the first round and were qualified to enter the second round.41) These business elites included a well-established real estate tycoon in the city. Sofyan Tan disclosed that the business elites intended to fund him and his running mate in order to obtain business favors if the pair won in the second round.42) Nevertheless, Tan refused their financial offers and made it clear that if he were to get elected and become the mayor, he would not involve himself in corruption and nepotism. In addition, he would not grant any favors to businesspeople who had sponsored him during the election. Tan and his running mate ended up losing in the second round of elections.

On the other hand, there are also Chinese Indonesian businesspeople who make use of the democratic environment in the post-Suharto era to directly participate in formal politics, and some of them even run for public office. Rusdi Kirana, Murdaya Widyawimatra Poo a.k.a. Poo Tjie Goan (傅志宽) and his wife, Siti Hartati Cakra Murdaya a.k.a. Chow Li Ing (邹丽英), and Hary Tanoesoedibjo (陈明立) are examples of Chinese big businesspeople or owners of Chinese conglomerates who get involved in politics. Kirana is the founder and chief executive officer of Lion Air, Indonesia’s low-cost airline. He joined the National Awakening Party (PKB, Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa), founded by former President Abdurrahman Wahid, and was appointed as the vice chairperson of the party in January 2014. He was later appointed as a member of the Presidential Advisory Council (Dewan Pertimbangan Presiden) by President Joko Widodo in January 2015 (, January 12, 2014; Kompas, January 19, 2015). Poo and Siti are the founders and owners of the CCM Group, a conglomerate engaged in the electric utility, footwear, plantation, furniture, and plywood industries. Poo joined PDI-P, led by Megawati, and became the treasurer and financial backer of the party. He also ran in the 2004 and 2009 elections and was elected into the national parliament in both, thanks to his financial status as a wealthy businessman and the support of well-established Chinese businesspeople in Surabaya (Jawa Pos, March 26, 2004; Li 2007, 195; 2010, 122; Detik News, December 2, 2009). In fact, Poo is the only Chinese Indonesian conglomerate owner who has been elected into public office since the end of the Suharto regime. Siti, on the other hand, joined the Democratic Party (PD, Partai Demokrat) led by Yudhoyono and became his benefactor (The Jakarta Globe, September 12, 2012). In other words, the Poo family members split their political loyalties and financial support between PDI-P and PD. But after the presidential election in 2009, when Yudhoyono was re-elected as president, Poo was dismissed from his party membership and his office in the parliament by PDI-P as he allegedly channeled his support to Yudhoyono, the incumbent, instead of Megawati during the presidential election (Detik News, December 2, 2009).43) Moreover, his wife, Siti, was later charged with bribery by the Jakarta Corruption Court and was sentenced to 32 months’ imprisonment in February 2013 (The Jakarta Post, February 5, 2013).44)

Tanoesoedibjo is the owner of the MNC Group, a media company in Indonesia. He initially joined the National Democratic Party (NasDem, Partai Nasional Demokrat), led by the media tycoon Surya Paloh, but later switched to the People’s Conscience Party (Hanura, Partai Hati Nurani Rakyat), led by ex-General Wiranto (Tempo, February 25, 2013). Moreover, he decided that he would become Wiranto’s running mate in the 2014 presidential elections (The Jakarta Post, July 3, 2013). However, Tanoesoedibjo could not fulfill such a wish as Wiranto later decided not to contest in the presidential elections (The Jakarta Post, May 18, 2014). Tanoesoedibjo left Hanura in May 2014 (Tempo, May 23, 2014).

However, it is worth noting that very few Chinese Indonesians who enter politics are well-established big businesspeople or conglomerate owners. A Chinese big businessman in Medan revealed that Chinese big businesspeople were usually reluctant to participate in formal politics because their businesses were already well established and well protected by local power holders or preman. Furthermore, they were afraid that they would make many enemies by getting involved in politics.45) Therefore, Chinese Indonesian businesspeople who get involved in politics are mostly not in big business.

In Medan and Surabaya, there are a few Chinese Indonesian parliamentarians with a background in business. These include Brilian Moktar (莫粧量), North Sumatra provincial parliamentarian from 2009 to the present; Hasyim a.k.a. Oei Kien Lim (黄建霖), Medan city parliamentarian from 2009 to the present; A Hie (王田喜), Medan city parliamentarian from 2009 to 2014; Fajar Budianto, East Java provincial parliamentarian from 1999 to 2004; Arifli Harbianto Hanurakin (韩明理), Surabaya city parliamentarian from 2004 to 2009; Simon Lekatompessy, Surabaya city parliamentarian from 2009 to 2014; Henky Kurniadi (游经善), national parliamentarian representing East Java 1 (covering Surabaya and Sidoarjo) from 2014 to the present; and Vinsensius Awey, Surabaya city parliamentarian from 2014 to the present. They were in small- or medium-scale businesses prior to getting elected as parliamentarians. Moktar was engaged in vehicle trading and servicing.46) Hasyim was a distributor of office stationery.47) A Hie was a hotel owner.48) Budianto ran a grocery shop in Kembang Jepun, Surabaya.49) Hanurakin owned a bakery shop (Jawa Pos, April 10, 2004). Lekatompessy was a billboard entrepreneur.50) Kurniadi was a real estate businessman.51) Awey ran a furniture shop (Surabaya Pagi, September 2, 2014).

Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that at present, none of the Chinese Indonesian businessmen-turned-politicians have the political standing of Joko Widodo, Jusuf Kalla, and Aburizal Bakrie, who were prominent indigenous Indonesian businesspeople. Widodo was a furniture entrepreneur before getting involved in politics. Kalla used to be the CEO of NV Hadji Kalla (now known as the Kalla Group), owned by his family. NV Hadji Kalla is a conglomerate engaged in the automotive, property, construction, and energy industries. Bakrie was the former chairperson of the Bakrie Group, a conglomerate with diversified interests across mining, oil and gas, real estate, agriculture, media, and telecommunications. Widodo served as the mayor of Solo from 2005 to 2012 and governor of Jakarta from 2012 to 2014, and was elected as the seventh president in 2014. Kalla was vice president from 2004 to 2009 and was elected into the same office in the 2014 presidential election, while Bakrie was the coordinating minister for economy under former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The fact that no Chinese Indonesian businessmen-turned-politicians currently have the political standing of Widodo, Kalla, and Bakrie is due mainly to the reluctance of many indigenous Indonesians to fully accept Chinese participation in public life. As Chua puts it, “[T]he label of Chinese would still be a barrier” (Chua 2008, 130). In addition, there have not been any Chinese Indonesians in Medan and Surabaya elected as local government heads, who have greater power to directly control local resources.

In the following sections, I will explore various illegal or semi-legal business practices that some Chinese businesspeople utilize to gain wealth and safeguard their business interests in the face of the difficult business environment.

Dealing with Power Holders, Police, and Military Commanders

As mentioned earlier, according to some of my informants, most of the Chinese businesspeople in Medan and Surabaya—especially those running small and medium businesses—usually just pay the amount of money or bribes requested by government officials in order to get their business permit or other related documents issued on time. Most of them give in to police officers’ illegal requests as well, in order to prevent further problems. Sometimes they try to negotiate with the people who ask for money if the amount requested is too large.52) As mentioned at the beginning of this article, it is alleged that even if a businessperson pays all taxes and charges levied on his or her business, tax officers still pay a visit to check on his or her business and ask for bribes; even when businesspersons pay their taxes honestly, they have to pay more. So, most Chinese businesspeople pay only some of the taxes and charges. Then when tax officers pay a visit to their companies, they just bribe the officers as requested.53) Johan Tjongiran, an ethnic Chinese social activist in Medan, explained such a practice by giving an example:

For instance, if a businessperson needs to pay Rp.500 million of taxes, the officers would normally ask him or her to pay only Rp.250 million and they would keep Rp.220 million for themselves, and submit only Rp.30 million to the government.54)

Therefore, Susanto, the ethnic Chinese toy distributor in Medan mentioned in the opening story of this article, argues that:

The wealthiest people in Indonesia are in fact not ethnic Chinese businesspeople but indigenous bureaucrats in the central and local governments like Gayus Tambunan.55) They become extremely rich after getting many bribes from businesspeople. Their children often spend time shopping in Singapore and bringing back many branded luxury goods to Indonesia.56)

Following Bourdieu’s concept of habitus and field, I argue that most Chinese businesspeople choose to give in to the illegal requests of government officials, police, and preman not only due to their reluctance to run into more trouble and their fear of the hassle of fighting back, but also because they have enough economic capital to pay bribes and extortion to protect their business and avoid further trouble. This is in line with Bourdieu’s notion of habitus and field that social actors well endowed with capital tend to defend the status quo of the field (social structure) they are in, in order to safeguard their capital.

Although there are also Chinese businesspeople who refuse to be extorted by the police and choose to get themselves organized and protest against the extortion, such people are rare. These businesspeople often do not have the necessary economic capital to pay the bribes and extortion. They therefore decide to protest against the extortion in order to safeguard their business. This is in line with Bourdieu’s notion of habitus and field that social actors least endowed with capital are inclined to challenge the status quo of the field (social structure) they are in. One well-known example is Yap Juk Lim (叶郁林), a Chinese businessperson engaged in the snack production industry near Jalan Metal, Medan. Yap used to have to pay the police Rp.300,000–400,000 every time they visited his factory. Eventually, he could not bear the extortion; and in 2007 he refused to pay. As a result, the police alleged that his factory used expired ingredients in snack production and detained him for eight days.57) As noted in a news report in Waspada, the Medan branch of the Regional Forum of Small and Medium Enterprises (FORDA UKM, Forum Daerah Usaha Kecil dan Menengah) supported Yap and launched a public protest together with other small and medium businesspeople from different ethnic backgrounds on March 25, 2008 (Waspada, March 25, 2008). The protest took place in front of the North Sumatra Police Headquarters, governor’s office, mayor’s office, provincial parliament, and Medan city parliament. The approximately 2,000 people who joined the protest demanded that the police stop extorting small and medium businesspeople.58) According to Yap, after the protest the police officers stopped harassing the factories around Jalan Metal for a long time. In 2010, however, they began to again visit some factories in that area, asking for payments; Yap’s factory, however, was free from the harassment.59) This indicates that the police recognized that Yap would fight back if they tried to extort him.

Sofyan Tan, a candidate in Medan’s 2010 mayoral election, revealed that many local Chinese businesspeople viewed Yap’s action positively, although it was not a common practice among Chinese businesspeople.60) Yap talked about the reluctance of most Chinese businesspeople to fight against extortion by government officials and police, and their reluctance to spend time getting themselves organized:

We have to get ourselves organized if we want to fight against such illegal requests. Many Chinese businesspeople regard this as time-consuming and would rather give in to illegal requests of government officials and police to avoid any further problems.61)

Another Chinese businessperson made a similar remark: “The Chinese are generally afraid of getting in trouble. If paying money to those extorting them can save them from further trouble, they will just pay the money instead of fighting back.”62)

In short, most Chinese businesspeople prefer to give in to the illegal requests of government officials and police because they are afraid of the hassle of fighting back, and of the trouble it is likely to cause them. Moreover, they have the necessary economic capital to pay the bribes and extortion to protect their business and save them from further troubles. Very few of them choose to fight against the extortion, because they feel that getting themselves organized to fight back is time consuming. By giving in to the illegal requests, Chinese businesspeople continue to make themselves the targets of extortion and perpetuate a corrupt, predatory political-business system.

Additionally, in order to obtain protection for their businesses, many well-established Chinese Indonesian businesspeople in Medan and Surabaya have utilized their social capital to establish close relationships with heads of security forces. The following quotation from an interview and the excerpts from a Chinese-language newspaper report on a welcome and farewell dinner for the East Java Regional Military Command in 2010 illustrate such political-business relationships between local Chinese Indonesian business elites and heads of security forces in both cities:

The ceremony of North Sumatra police chief transfers was held recently [in March 2010]. I was there too. [Do you] want to know who most of the attendees were? About 90 percent of them were Chinese big businesspeople!63)

East Java Entrepreneur Charitable Foundation, Surabaya Chinese Association (PMTS, Paguyuban Masyarakat Tionghoa Surabaya), and Chinese community leaders jointly organized a welcome and farewell dinner for the East Java Regional Military Command on October 6 at 7pm. The event was held at the Grand Ballroom of Shangri-La Hotel, Surabaya.

During the dinner, Alim Markus [president of East Java Entrepreneur Charitable Foundation and PMTS] delivered his speech with enthusiasm: “Thanks to the mercy of the Lord, tonight we have the opportunity to get together with the former and new military commanders of East Java. On behalf of the Chinese community in Surabaya, I would like to wish our former military commander [Suwarno] all the best in his future endeavors. I would also like to call upon the Chinese community to cooperate with the new military commander [Gatot]. (Medan Zao Bao, October 9, 2010, my translation from the Chinese original)

As referred to in the excerpt from the Chinese-language newspaper report above, the local Chinese business community in Surabaya led by Alim Markus (林文光) organized a welcome and farewell dinner for the former and new regional military commander of East Java in 2010. Junus, one of my informants—a university professor in Surabaya—revealed that Markus was well connected with President Suharto during the New Order. After the collapse of the Suharto regime, Markus established close ties with Imam Utomo, the then governor of East Java.64) Markus is the owner of Maspion Group, a Surabaya-based conglomerate that manufactures household appliances.

Many well-established Chinese businesspeople in Surabaya have also established close relationships with the governor, the regional police chief (Kapolda, Kepala Polisi Daerah), and the regional military commander (Pangdam, Panglima Daerah Militer), all of whom are paid by the former on a regular basis.65) Bambang, a Chinese big businessman whom I interviewed, disclosed that he was a good friend of Soekarwo, the governor of East Java. Bambang owns a ceramic tile factory.66) Junus, who knows many local Chinese businesspeople, commented that Bambang is free from harassment and extortion by the police due to his good relationship with the governor.67) A few well-established Chinese businesspeople who run nightclubs in the city are well connected to the mayor and local police. Therefore, their businesses are protected and their clubs are free from police raids.68)

It is alleged that some Chinese businesspeople who run big businesses in Surabaya are connected to Anton Prijatno (王炳金), a Golkar member who served in the East Java provincial legislature and the national legislature (DPR, Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat) during the Suharto era, and later, after the end of the New Order, became a prominent businessman and political patron for many Chinese businesses in Surabaya.69) In my interview with him, Prijatno revealed that he left Golkar in May 1998 because he was very disappointed with the rampant corruption within the Suharto regime.70) Unlike most local Chinese politicians with business backgrounds, Prijatno became actively engaged in business only after spending many years in politics. He became the chairperson of an asphalt distribution company in 2003.71) Since Prijatno is close to the governor, his business flourishes and is protected from harassment and extortion by the police. He is also a business partner of Sudomo Mergonoto (吴德辉), who owns Kapal Api Group, a coffee production company, and Bambang (the ceramic tile factory owner).72) In addition, Prijatno is a supplier of asphalt for many well-established Chinese real estate developers and contractors in the city.73) Since he is a prominent politician and close to the governor, it is alleged that he also acts as a political patron for most well-established Chinese businesses in Surabaya, except Markus’s Maspion Group, the largest conglomerate in Surabaya.74)

Similarly, in Medan, according to a local media activist who knows many local businesspeople of Chinese descent, in order to obtain protection and privileged access to permits and contracts from local power holders, many well-established Chinese Indonesian businesspeople in the city have established close relationships with local power holders and heads of security forces who hold the most power in North Sumatra, i.e., the governor, the regional police chief, and the regional military commander. They often group together to “contribute” money to those power holders and heads of security forces in exchange for protection and permits.75) Another NGO activist disclosed that it is common for Chinese businesspeople who operate big businesses in the city to group together and form close ties with local police officers. They pay money to the police regularly in exchange for protection.76)

Benny Basri (张保圆) is a good example of a well-connected Chinese businessman in Medan. Running PT Central Business District (CBD), a well-established real estate company in the city, Basri is said to be close to regional military officers and local police officers.77) He has also held the position of treasurer in the North Sumatra branch of the Democratic Party (PD, Partai Demokrat) since 2003.78) It is alleged that because of his close relationship with local power holders, he was able to purchase land previously owned by the Indonesian Air Force in Polonia, Medan, for a real estate development project.79)

While Chinese businesspeople who run large-scale businesses are able to establish close ties with local power holders and heads of security forces because they have a strong social network, those who own small- and medium-scale businesses generally do not have the ability and opportunity to establish close ties with local or potential power holders.

Relations with Preman
As mentioned, institutionalized gangsterism is dominant in Medan. Some local Chinese businesspeople who run large-scale businesses have established close relationships with youth/crime organizations to get protection for their business. According to an NGO activist in Medan, many well-established Chinese businesspeople hire preman to protect their business and to break up strikes.80) Some of them have also become advisers of youth/crime organizations. For instance, one of my informants disclosed that Vincent Wijaya, a local Chinese businessperson engaged in the frozen seafood industry, was an adviser of PP’s North Sumatra branch, a major youth/crime organization in the province, and hence his business was well protected by PP.81) In addition, according to the person in charge of Harian Promosi Indonesia (《印广日报》), a Chinese-language press in Medan, the founder of the press, Hakim Honggandhi (关健康), used to be the treasurer of IPK, a youth/crime organization based in Medan. Honggandhi was also connected to the North Sumatran military because he used to distribute consumer goods to them.82)

Another good example is the support that Indra Wahidin (黄印华), the then chairperson of the North Sumatra branch of the Chinese Indonesian Association, and a group of Chinese community leaders (who were mostly businesspeople) gave to Ajib Shah-Binsar Situmorang, one of the candidate pairs in Medan’s 2010 mayoral election (Harian Global, March 30, 2010; Harian Analisa, May 7, 2010; Waspada, May 7, 2010).83) Wahidin is an insurance agent and paint distributor.84) He openly supported Ajib-Binsar because of his connections with Ajib, the former chairperson of PP’s North Sumatra branch. Wahidin and several other Chinese businesspeople, some said, believed Ajib would offer more protection to their business if he was elected,85) as opposed to Sofyan Tan (the only ethnic Chinese mayoral candidate), who refused to promise any favors to those who supported his candidature.86) One informant, however, has a different interpretation of this support: that Wahidin supported Ajib in order to secure the safety of the local Chinese community. This is because Ajib was initially the candidate chosen by the Prosperous Peace Party (PDS, Partai Damai Sejahtera), but the party later revoked its support in favor of Sofyan Tan. Since Wahidin was afraid that Ajib would blame the local Chinese community for this turnaround and make trouble for them, he decided to openly support and campaign for Ajib.87)

Besides that, according to some of my informants, the local governments of post-New Order Medan/North Sumatra often allocate local state projects to indigenous contractors who are members of youth/crime organizations.88) But it is also not uncommon for them to subcontract some of their projects to Chinese contractors who are their friends. An indigenous contractor may subcontract his projects to his Chinese friends at 20 percent less than his original tender cost. What this means is that the contractor would get a 20 percent cut from the cost.89) In other words, some local Chinese businesspeople who are well connected with youth/crime organizations could informally work on local state projects.

Conversely, in Surabaya, the relations between Chinese businesspeople and preman are different since the youth/crime organizations there are much less dominant. As mentioned, Chinese businesspeople in Surabaya often pay Madurese preman in exchange for “protection” for their business premises. In addition, during workers’ strikes, Chinese Indonesian industrialists often hire Madurese preman or members of Banser, the vigilante corps of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), to apply pressure on striking workers. With regard to the allocation of local state projects, according to a university professor in Surabaya, unlike in Medan, contractors who get local state projects in Surabaya are not necessarily members of youth/crime organizations, since such organizations are less dominant in the city. However, these contractors are generally well connected to local decision makers.90) A Chinese Indonesian politician-turned-businessman in Surabaya disclosed that during the New Order era, the local government of Surabaya often allocated state projects to indigenous Indonesian contractors; very few Chinese Indonesian contractors got the projects. Hence, it was common for indigenous contractors to subcontract some of their projects to Chinese contractors. But since the end of the New Order, the local government of Surabaya has become more open and less discriminative: about 50 percent of contractors who get state projects are well-established Chinese contractors.91) Therefore, in the Reformasi era, very few Chinese contractors in Surabaya work on state projects that are subcontracted by indigenous contractors. This is certainly very different from the triangular collusion (Chinese contractors-youth/crime organizations-local government officials) that their Chinese counterparts in Medan have developed.

Financial Coercion against the Media

After the unraveling of the Suharto regime in May 1998, many discriminatory measures against the Chinese were removed. Most significantly, Suharto’s policy of forced assimilation was abandoned.92) In 2001 President Wahid sanctioned the publication of Chinese-language print media through the repealing of laws that had prohibited the local publication of Chinese characters in Indonesia since 1965, and thus Chinese-language materials became more freely available. Many schools were allowed to conduct Chinese-language courses. Besides that, ethnic Chinese were allowed to openly celebrate Chinese festivals (Turner 2003, 347–348; Hoon 2008, 104).

The advent of democratization and the removal of restrictions on Chinese cultural expression brought about press freedom and a new beginning for Chinese-language presses in Indonesia. Several Chinese-language presses were established across the country after the end of the New Order. In Medan, five Chinese-language presses were established after the end of the Suharto regime: Harian Promosi Indonesia (《印广日报》), Su Bei Ri Bao (《苏北日报》), Xun Bao (《讯报》), Hao Bao (《好报》), and Zheng Bao Daily (《正报》). All of them except Harian Promosi Indonesia are still in business at the time of writing. Harian Promosi Indonesia ceased publication at the end of December 2014 due to low readership. It was later re-launched under a new name, Zheng Bao Daily, in February 2015 (Zheng Bao Daily, February 16, 2015). In Surabaya, four Chinese-language presses were established in the post-Suharto era: Harian Naga Surya (《龙阳日报》), Harian Nusantara (《千岛日报》), Rela Warta (《诚报》), and Si Shui Chen Bao (《泗水晨报》).93) However, Harian Naga Surya and Rela Warta ceased publication after a few years due to various reasons.94)

It is worth noting that press freedom appears to be a double-edged sword for Chinese businesspeople. On the one hand, Chinese businesspeople can establish Chinese-language presses to promote Chinese culture and discuss issues related to ethnic Chinese in Indonesian society. They can also use the presses as a cultural space to showcase themselves and their business. But on the other hand, press freedom allows the media to expose the corrupt practices of Chinese businesspeople and the politicians to whom they are connected.

Chinese-language presses in Medan and Surabaya generally run at a loss due to low readership. The prohibition of Chinese-language education in New Order Indonesia produced a younger generation of Chinese who are mostly Chinese illiterate. Therefore, there is no general readership beyond the older generation, and this leads to a diminishing market.95) The presses need to depend on the financial support of local Chinese businesspeople in order to survive. Some well-established Chinese businesspeople support Chinese-language presses in Medan and Surabaya by becoming their shareholders or advertisers. In this way, they also make sure that the presses report in favor of them and their business. Such patrimonial power relations between Chinese-language presses and well-established Chinese businesspeople have deterred the presses from reporting negative news about local Chinese businesses. Therefore, news about corrupt business practices involving Chinese businesspeople is rarely reported in local Chinese-language presses. For instance, in October 2010, while Indonesian-language newspapers in Medan such as Waspada and Harian Orbit covered the alleged tax evasion by PT Indo Palapa, a real estate company owned by Benny Basri, an ethnic Chinese real estate tycoon in the city, most of the local Chinese-language newspapers did not report on the case. PT Indo Palapa allegedly submitted false information to the tax offices in the city about the number of shophouses that had been built by the company, so as to avoid paying taxes.96) When Xun Bao later published a news report on the case, it did not mention the name of Benny Basri.97)

Chinese businesspeople who fund Chinese-language presses are mostly connected to national- and local-level power holders. In order to survive, the presses must refrain from being critical of these power holders, otherwise they might encounter a withdrawal of their funders’ sponsorship. The fate of Rela Warta (《诚报》) in Surabaya vividly illustrates the carrot-and-stick method used on a critical press. Rela Warta was the only Chinese-language newspaper in Surabaya that did not cover many of the sociocultural activities organized by local Chinese organizations. It was also the only Chinese-language newspaper that often published in-depth and critical editorials and opinion pieces on current affairs and politics in Indonesia. The newspaper published a few editorials and opinion pieces on the general election and the role of Chinese Indonesian voters during the 2004 parliamentary election.98) It also published news on Dédé Oetomo (温忠孝), an ethnic Chinese social activist in Surabaya who contested in the East Java regional representative council (DPD, Dewan Perwakilan Daerah) election in 2004.99)

Shortly after the 2004 election, Rela Warta suddenly announced that it would turn into a weekly paper due to low readership and the increase in printing price (Rela Warta, April 8, 2004).100) But according to the former person in charge of the newspaper, the change was actually due to the main advertiser’s decision to stop advertising in the newspaper after the editorial team refused to openly support Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the soon-to-be presidential candidate at that time, as requested by the main advertiser. The main advertiser was a member of the Chinese business elite who ran various types of business in East Java. He had been contributing Rp.2 million in advertising fees to the newspaper every month. Prior to the polls, the main advertiser, who was close to Yudhoyono, urged Rela Warta to openly support Yudhoyono and call upon the local Chinese community to do the same. But the newspaper’s editorial team refused to do so because they maintained that the Chinese community had the right to support any electoral candidate they liked. In addition, the newspaper published a few news articles that were critical of Yudhoyono prior to the election. The main advertiser was upset and subsequently decided to withdraw his regular contribution of advertisements to the newspaper. Moreover, he urged other local Chinese business elites to boycott the newspaper. Consequently, Rela Warta lost many subscribers and a considerable amount of advertising revenue. Therefore, shortly after the parliamentary election, the founders decided to turn Rela Warta into a weekly paper.101) But even after the weekly circulation of the paper was reduced to 2,000 copies, the publication continued to lose money. Later, in June 2007, Rela Warta was taken over by the East Java branch of the Chinese Indonesian Social Association (PSMTI, Paguyuban Sosial Marga Tionghoa Indonesia), led by Jos Soetomo (江庆德), and became the bulletin of the organization (Li 2008, 360). In 2009, the paper ceased publication as it was no longer supported by PSMTI’s East Java branch (ibid.).102)

The decline of Rela Warta clearly shows that some Chinese business elites do not hesitate to resort to financial coercion against a media outlet in order to safeguard their business interests. It also shows that it is extremely difficult to establish and maintain a Chinese-language press without financial support from the Chinese business community. Without the money, it is impossible for a press to survive in the long term. This illustrates the ambivalence of press freedom for the Chinese in the post-Suharto era. The patrimonial power relations between local Chinese-language presses and Chinese business elites in Medan and Surabaya have also played an important role in shaping local politics, which is infused with corruption.

Land Disputes in Medan and Threats against Chinese Indonesians

Due to the absence of a well-established rule of law before and after the end of the New Order, there have been several cases of land disputes involving illegal seizure of state and residential land by real estate developers, who are mostly Chinese Indonesians. However, as I will discuss later in this section, land disputes in Medan tend to turn into violent conflicts and threats against Chinese Indonesians. Conversely, violent conflicts and threats against Chinese Indonesians related to land disputes rarely occur in Surabaya, due to two reasons. The first has much to do with the interethnic relationships between Chinese and indigenous Indonesians in these two cities. According to Judith Nagata (2003, 375), Medan has a long history of tensions between local Chinese and local indigenous groups. The use of Hokkien, a Chinese dialect originating from the southern part of Fujian Province in China, among Chinese in Medan creates a gulf between them and indigenous Indonesians. The Chinese are also considered wealthier and often encounter opposition and antagonism from indigenous Indonesians.103) The situation is quite different in Surabaya; according to an article in Gatra magazine (July 18, 1998), and also mentioned in an interview with Dédé Oetomo—an ethnic Chinese social activist in Surabaya—Chinese in Surabaya, who often speak Indonesian instead of Chinese languages, generally maintain a good relationship with indigenous Indonesians.104) This good relationship is due also to the dominance of NU in East Java. According to Suhaimi, a university lecturer in Surabaya, NU is a mass-based Muslim organization that embraces moderate Islam and emphasizes tolerance for minorities, including the Chinese minority. Its teachings have influenced many East Javanese Muslims.105) A second reason has much to do with the way the local government and developers in Surabaya deal with land disputes. As Howard W. Dick notes in his book on Surabaya, the local government and developers in the city prefer negotiation to violence in dealing with land disputes. Prompt resettlement with a higher rate of compensation is the usual compromise (Dick 2003, 406). In other words, residents in Surabaya enjoy better institutional protection compared to those in Medan. Hence, land disputes in Surabaya seldom turn into threats against ethnic Chinese Indonesians.

There are a few land disputes involving Chinese Indonesian real estate developers in Medan that I want to showcase here to show how some Chinese Indonesian developers have willingly resorted to illegal practices to further their business interests. These cases have received fairly high coverage in the local and national press and have kept alive the general national view of Chinese Indonesians as being collusive and willing to engage in corruption to maintain their wealth.

In November and December 2011, Indonesian-language newspapers in Medan reported that three ethnic Chinese tycoons had been implicated in the illegal seizure of state and residential land in the city. The tycoons involved were Benny Basri (张保圆), Tamin Sukardi, and Mujianto (郑祥南). All of them were real estate developers (Harian Sumut Pos, November 8, 2011; November 9, 2011; Harian Orbit, November 17, 2011; November 30, 2011; December 5, 2011; December 7, 2011). It was alleged that they had managed to take over the land by bribing local government bureaucrats. Basri, the owner of PT Central Business District (CBD), was alleged to have obtained the land title for Sari Rejo Sub-district (Kelurahan Sari Rejo) through illegal means. The land was previously under the ownership of the Indonesian Air Force, but it had later become a residential area. However, residents who had been living in Sari Rejo for decades did not get their land title, while Basri managed to get it within a short period of time and planned to turn the land into a commercial property. In other words, the ownership of the land had been transferred from the air force to Basri’s company.

As mentioned earlier in this article, Basri was a real estate tycoon well connected to local power holders and local military as well as police officers. He was also the treasurer of PD’s North Sumatra branch since 2003. So, it was quite possible that Basri managed to take over the land in Sari Rejo within a short period of time because of his close association with local power holders and officers at the local air force base.

Both Sukardi and Mujianto were implicated in land seizures at Helvetia, Deliserdang Regency (Kabupaten Deliserdang), North Sumatra. Sukardi, the owner of PT Erniputra Terari, had taken over former state land in Helvetia for commercial purposes. The land was earlier given by the state to the residents of Helvetia. Sukardi was allegedly involved in the hiring of gangsters to kidnap and assault an NGO activist who led residents of Helvetia to defend their land rights. The activist was later released, after being repeatedly assaulted by gangsters for several hours. Mujianto, the owner of Agung Cemara Realty, was implicated in the seizure of another piece of former state land in Helvetia in 1968. The land had been given to residents of Helvetia, who later turned it into a football field. According to a local social activist, as cited in Harian Orbit, Mujianto suddenly claimed ownership of the land in 2011 with a title deed. Although the title deed did not show the correct address of the land, Mujianto still fenced the land with the help of the police to prevent residents from entering. Therefore, the activist believed the incident was “a game of land mafia” with the collusion of government officials (Harian Orbit, November 30, 2011, my translation from the Indonesian original). As a result, the residents could no longer use the field for leisure and exercise. This angered the residents, and they subsequently demolished the fence, leading to a clash between the residents and gangsters hired by Mujianto. Police officers showed up during the clash; but instead of protecting the residents, they joined the gangsters in attacking the residents. Several residents were injured in the confrontation.

The land disputes in Helvetia drew the attention of a few North Sumatra provincial parliamentarians, who paid a visit to the site of the land disputes on April 9, 2013. They promised to hold a meeting with the residents to discuss the issue and a search for a solution. By June 2013 the promise had not yet been fulfilled, so on June 7, 2013, the Islamic organization Al Washliyah, which owned land in Helvetia that had been taken over by Sukardi, officially lodged a complaint with the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK, Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi) about Sukardi’s seizure of land in Helvetia. Apart from protesting against Sukardi in front of his office, members of Al Washliyah also held demonstrations in front of the North Sumatra chief attorney’s office and the North Sumatra High Court, urging law enforcers to take action against Sukardi (Harian Orbit, June 10, 2013). The protesters carried a coffin when they protested again outside Sukardi’s office on June 24, 2013 (Harian Orbit, June 25, 2013).

Harian Orbit referred to the three developers as “slanted-eye businesspeople” (pengusaha mata cipit), clearly indicating their Chinese ethnicity, since it was common for non-Chinese in Indonesia to refer to the Chinese as “slanted-eye” or mata cipit (Harian Orbit, December 5, 2011). To some extent, the alleged involvement of the three Chinese developers in land disputes reinforced the stereotypes of Chinese businesspeople as being heartless, corrupt, and opportunistic.

On another occasion, PT Jatimasindo, a real estate company owned by Arsyad Lis, another ethnic Chinese tycoon in Medan, was involved in the demolition of the Raudhatul Islam Mosque in Medan on April 11, 2011 (Suara Nasional News, January 30, 2013). The mosque was situated behind Emerald Garden Hotel, which was also owned by Lis. According to the chairperson of the Muslim People’s Forum (FUI, Forum Umat Islam),106) Indra Suheri, as interviewed by the Jakarta Post, the demolition of the mosque was to make way for the establishment of a shopping mall and a housing complex (The Jakarta Post, January 28, 2012). The company carried out the demolition after getting approval from Medan’s Council of Indonesian Islamic Scholars (MUI, Majelis Ulama Indonesia). Suheri accused Medan’s MUI of gaining material benefits at the expense of a mosque (Harian Orbit, February 7, 2012). Since then, FUI and several local Islamic activists have staged demonstrations in front of Emerald Garden Hotel from time to time. In early February 2012, banners with the provocative words “[Kalau] 1 mesjid lagi digusurr.1000 rumah cina kami bakarr!” (If one more mosque is demolished, we will burn 1,000 Chinese houses!) were even displayed during the demonstrations. It was also rumored that the protesters carried out sweeping raids on every car passing the area and asked the drivers to lower the car window. Although the sweeping never really occurred, the rumor—which was circulated via mobile phone text messages in Medan—caused panic among local Chinese in the city (Tribun Medan, February 4, 2012).

Later, in February 2013, PT Jatimasindo promised to rebuild the mosque at the same location. But as of May 2014, the company had not yet provided the rebuilding funds, and this was perceived by local Islamic activists as breaking the promise. So, the activists continued to stage open demonstrations in front of the Emerald Garden Hotel (Harian Sumut Pos, March 23, 2013; Harian Andalas, May 17, 2014).

At the time of writing, there has been no further news on land disputes involving the above Chinese tycoons.

The Chinese Indonesian developers’ involvement in land disputes not only violated the land rights of local communities but also perpetuated the corrupt, predatory political-business system in Medan. In addition, their alleged corrupt business practices reinforced the negative perception of ethnic Chinese among indigenous Indonesians, and this sometimes led to violence and threats against Chinese Indonesians.


The corrupt local politics and murky business environment in post-Suharto Indonesia are the result of corrupt practices and internal mismanagement that continue to characterize the bureaucracy in the country. This study shows that Chinese big business or conglomerates and Chinese small and medium businesses react and adapt to such a political-business environment in different ways. Chinese big businesses or conglomerates have experienced staff to identify and approach the right persons in different political departments as well as sufficient capital to bribe regional decision makers. Moreover, Chinese big businesspeople utilize their wealth and strong social networks to establish close ties with local power holders, security forces, and youth/crime organizations. Some control or intimidate critical media through financial coercion. In other words, Chinese big businesses or conglomerates are in an advantageous position in dealing with the corrupt and muddy business environment. Chinese businesspeople running small or medium businesses, however, generally do not have the necessary economic and social capital to establish close ties with local power holders, security forces, and youth/crime organizations. Most of them just choose to give in to the illegal requests of government officials or preman to prevent further hassles. On the other hand, there have been a few Chinese Indonesian businesspeople getting involved in politics and being elected as parliamentarians after the opening up of a democratic political space. However, I argue that the political power of Chinese Indonesians in Medan and Surabaya is overall still limited, because there have not been any Chinese Indonesians elected as local government heads, who have more power to directly control local resources.

It is important to note that all the different semi-legal and illegal means utilized by Chinese Indonesian businesspeople in dealing with the new political-business environment have perpetuated and reproduced the corrupt, predatory political-business system. By giving in to the illegal requests of power holders, police, and preman, Chinese businesspeople have colluded in and indirectly perpetuated such corrupt practices, as well as reinforced the stereotype that the Chinese can pay, will pay, and should pay for everything, including a peaceful business environment. By colluding with local power holders, heads of security forces, and youth/crime organizations to get protection and access to permits and contracts, Chinese businesspeople have directly become an integral part of the problematic political-business relationships and the local politics infused with corruption and institutionalized gangsterism. Although there are a few Chinese businesspeople who refuse to become victims of extortion and choose to fight back, these appear to be rare. By intimidating critical media through financial coercion, Chinese businesspeople have seriously threatened press freedom in post-Suharto Indonesia. Such a problematic political-business system is a vicious circle: Following Giddens’s structure-agency theory, corrupt local politics in post-Suharto Indonesia prompts Chinese businesspeople to resort to various illegal and semi-legal business practices to gain and protect their business and personal interests. Such business practices in turn perpetuate and reproduce the problematic business environment, as well as reinforce and reproduce the ambivalent position of ethnic Chinese in Indonesian society. I therefore argue that the corrupt local politics and murky political-business environment continue to exist in the Reformasi era not only because of the capture of new political vehicles and institutions by the New Order-nurtured predatory interests, but also due to the active role of many Chinese businesspeople in perpetuating the system. Many, if not most, Chinese businesspeople in post-Suharto Medan and Surabaya are agents who maintain the status quo (of the corrupt local politics, the problematic political-business system, and the ambivalent position of the Chinese minority) instead of being agents of change.

Accepted: March 11, 2015


This article is adapted from part of my Ph.D. thesis. An earlier version of this article was presented at “The International Seminar on Chinese Indonesian Businesses in the 21st Century: Historical and Contemporary Dynamics,” Yogyakarta, Indonesia, September 9–10, 2011. I wish to take this opportunity to thank Associate Professor Maribeth Erb, Associate Professor Douglas A. Kammen, Professor Vedi R. Hadiz, Associate Professor Eric C. Thompson, and Dr. Charles Caroll for their guidance and useful comments. I would also like to thank two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions. In Medan and Surabaya, I am particularly grateful for the advice and assistance offered by Mr. Elfenda Ananda, Ms. Suci Al-Falah, Dr. Dédé Oetomo, and Mr. Anton Prijatno. Funding for the fieldwork was obtained from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, National University of Singapore.



Ariel Heryanto; and Hadiz, Vedi R. 2005. Post-Authoritarian Indonesia: A Comparative Southeast Asian Perspective. Critical Asian Studies 37(2): 251–275.

Aris Ananta; Arifin, Evi Nurvidya; and Bakhtiar. 2008. Chinese Indonesians in Indonesia and the Province of Riau Archipelago: A Demographic Analysis. In Ethnic Chinese in Contemporary Indonesia, edited by Leo Suryadinata, pp. 17–47. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Aris Ananta; Arifin, Evi Nurvidya; and Suryadinata, Leo. 2005. Emerging Democracy in Indonesia. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Aspinall, Edward; Dettman, Sebastian; and Warburton, Eve. 2011. When Religion Trumps Ethnicity: A Regional Election Case Study from Indonesia. South East Asia Research 19(1): 27–58.

Azis, Iwan J. 2003. Concepts and Practice of Decentralization: Some Notes on the Case of Indonesia. Paper presented at the Policy Dialogue on “Empowering Women in Autonomy and Decentralization Processes,” New York, May 29, 2003.

Backman, Michael. 2001. The New Order Conglomerates. In Perspectives on the Chinese Indonesians, edited by Michael R. Godley and Grayson J. Lloyd, pp. 83–99. Adelaide: Crawford House Publishing.

Beittinger-Lee, Verena. 2009. (Un)Civil Society and Political Change in Indonesia: A Contested Arena. Abingdon: Routledge.

Bourdieu, Pierre. 2005. Habitus. In Habitus: A Sense of Place, edited by Jean Hillier and Emma Rooksby, pp. 43–49. Aldershot: Ashgate.

―. 1998. Practical Reason: On the Theory of Action. Translated by Randal Johnson and others. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

―. 1993. Sociology in Question. Translated by Richard Nice. London: Sage Publications.

―. 1990a. In Other Words: Essays towards a Reflexive Sociology. Translated by Matthew Adamson. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

―. 1990b. The Logic of Practice. Translated by Richard Nice. Cambridge: Polity Press.

―. 1984. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Translated by Richard Nice. London: Routledge.

Brooks, Karen. 2011. Is Indonesia Bound for the BRICs? Foreign Affairs 90(6). EBSCOhost (66803987).

Buiskool, Dirk A. 2004. Medan: A Plantation City on the East Coast of Sumatra 1870–1942 (Planters, the Sultan, Chinese and the Indian). Unpublished paper presented at the first International Urban Conference, Surabaya, Indonesia, August 23–25, 2004.

Chua, Christian. 2008. Chinese Big Business in Indonesia: The State of Capital. Abingdon: Routledge.

Coppel, Charles A. 2008. Anti-Chinese Violence in Indonesia after Soeharto. In Ethnic Chinese in Contemporary Indonesia, edited by Leo Suryadinata, pp. 117–136. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

―. 1983. Indonesian Chinese in Crisis. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press.

Davidson, Jamie S. 2009. Dilemmas of Democratic Consolidation in Indonesia. The Pacific Review 22(3): 293–310.

Dick, Howard W. 2003. Surabaya, City of Work: A Socioeconomic History, 1900–2000. Singapore: Singapore University Press.

Firman, Tommy. 2009. Decentralization Reform and Local-Government Proliferation in Indonesia: Towards a Fragmentation of Regional Development. Review of Urban & Regional Development Studies 21(2/3): 143–157.

Giddens, Anthony. 1989. Sociology. Cambridge: Polity Press.

―. 1984. The Constitution of Society. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Hadiluwih, RM. H. Subanindyo. 1994. Studi Tentang Masalah Tionghoa di Indonesia (Studi Kasus in Medan) [A study on the Chinese problem in Indonesia (a case study in Medan)]. Medan: Dhian-Doddy Press.

Hadiz, Vedi R. 2010. Localising Power in Post-Authoritarian Indonesia: A Southeast Asia Perspective. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

________. 2005. Reorganizing Political Power in Indonesia: A Reconsideration of So-Called “Democratic Transitions.” In Regionalism in Post-Suharto Indonesia, edited by Maribeth Erb, Priyambudi Sulisttiyanto, and Carole Faucher, pp. 36–53. Abingdon: RoutledgeCurzon.

―. 2004. Indonesian Local Party Politics: A Site of Resistance to Neoliberal Reform. Critical Asian Studies 36(4): 615–636.

―. 2003. Power and Politics in North Sumatra: The Uncompleted Reformasi. In Local Power and Politics in Indonesia: Decentralisation and Democratisation, edited by Edward Aspinall and Greg Fealy, pp. 119–131. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Hadiz, Vedi R.; and Robison, Richard. 2005. Neo-Liberal Reforms and Illiberal Consolidations: The Indonesian Paradox. Journal of Development Studies 41(2): 220–241.

Hofman, Bert; and Kaiser, Kai. 2006. Decentralization, Democratic Transition, and Local Governance in Indonesia. In Decentralization and Local Governance in Developing Countries: A Comparative Perspective, edited by Pranab Bardhan and Dilip Mookherjee, pp. 81–124. Cambridge: MIT Press.

―. 2004. The Making of the “Big Bang” and Its Aftermath: A Political Economy Perspective. In Reforming Intergovernmental Fiscal Relations and the Rebuilding of Indonesia: The “Big Bang” Program and Its Economic Consequences, edited by James Alm, Jorge Martinez-Vazquez, and Sri Mulyani Indrawati, pp. 15–46. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Honna, Jun. 2011. Orchestrating Transnational Crime: Security Sector Politics as a Trojan Horse for Anti-reformists. In The State and Illegality in Indonesia, edited by Edward Aspinall and Gerry van Klinken, pp. 261–279. Leiden: KITLV Press.

―. 2010. The Legacy of the New Order Military in Local Politics: West, Central and East Java. In Soeharto’s New Order and Its Legacy: Essays in Honour of Harold Crouch, edited by Edward Aspinall and Greg Fealy, pp. 135–150. Canberra: ANU E Press.

Hoon, Chang-Yau. 2008. Chinese Identity in Post-Suharto Indonesia: Culture, Politics and Media. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press.

King, Phil. 2003. Putting the (Para)Military Back into Politics. Inside Indonesia 73.

Li Zhuo Hui 李卓辉. 2010. Gaige JiliuYuhui Maijin 改革激流・迂回迈进 [Keep moving forward for reformation]. Jakarta: Mandarin Book Store.

―. 2008. Nijing FenjinBaiqu Bunao 逆境奋进・百折不挠 [Struggling against adversity]. Jakarta: Mandarin Book Store.

―. 2007. Yinhua Canzheng Yu Guojia Jianshe 印华参政与国家建设 [The political participation of Chinese Indonesians and nation building]. Jakarta: Mandarin Book Store.

Mietzner, Marcus. 2008. Soldiers, Parties and Bureaucrats: Illicit Fund-Raising in Contemporary Indonesia. South East Asia Research 16(2): 225–254.

Nagata, Judith. 2003. Local and Transnational Initiatives towards Improving Chinese-Indigenous Relations in Post-Suharto Indonesia: The Role of the Voluntary Sector. Asian Ethnicity 4(3): 369–381.

Purdey, Jemma. 2006. Anti-Chinese Violence in Indonesia, 1996–1999. Singapore: Singapore University Press.

Rasyid, M. Ryaas. 2003. Regional Autonomy and Local Politics in Indonesia. In Local Power and Politics in Indonesia: Decentralisation and Democratisation, edited by Edward Aspinall and Greg Fealy, pp. 63–71. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Ricklefs, M. C. 2008. A History of Modern Indonesia since c.1200. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Rizal Sukma. 2010. Indonesia’s 2009 Elections: Defective System, Resilient Democracy. In Problems of Democratisation in Indonesia: Elections, Institutions and Society, edited by Edward Aspinall and Marcus Mietzner, pp. 53–74. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Ryter, Loren. 2005. Reformasi Gangsters. Inside Indonesia 82.

―. 2002. Youth, Gangs, and the State in Indonesia. PhD dissertation, University of Washington.

―. 2001. Pemuda Pancasila: The Last Loyalist Free Men of Suharto’s Order? In Violence and the State in Suharto’s Indonesia, edited by Benedict Richard O’Gorman Anderson, pp. 124–155. Ithaca: Cornell Southeast Asia Program.

―. 2000. A Tale of Two Cities. Inside Indonesia 63.

Suryadinata, Leo. 1992. Pribumi Indonesians, the Chinese Minority and China. Singapore: Heinemann Asia.

Syaikhu Usman. 2002. Regional Autonomy in Indonesia: Field Experiences and Emerging Challenges. Working Paper. Jakarta: SMERU Research Institute.

Tan, Sofyan. 2004. Jalan Menuju Masyarakat Anti Diskriminasi [Toward an anti-discrimination society]. Medan: KIPPAS.

Turner, Sarah. 2003. Setting the Scene Speaking Out: Chinese Indonesians after Suharto. Asian Ethnicity 4(3): 337–352.

USAID Office of Democracy and Governance. 2000. Decentralization and Democratic Local Governance Programming Handbook. Washington, DC: United States Agency for International Development.

Wanandi, Sofyan. 1999. The Post-Soeharto Business Environment. In Post-Soeharto Indonesia: Renewal or Chaos?, edited by Geoff Forrester, pp. 128–134. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Widjajanti I. Suharyo. 2009. Indonesia’s Transition to Decentralized Governance: Evolution at the Local Level. In Decentralization and Regional Autonomy in Indonesia: Implementation and Challenges, edited by Coen J. G. Holtzappel and Martin Ramstedt, pp. 75–98. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Wilson, Ian. 2011. Reconfiguring Rackets: Racket Regimes, Protection and the State in Post-New Order Jakarta. In The State and Illegality in Indonesia, edited by Edward Aspinall and Gerry van Klinken, pp. 239–259. Leiden: KITLV Press.

―. 2010. The Rise and Fall of Political Gangsters in Indonesian Democracy. In Problems of Democratisation in Indonesia: Elections, Institutions and Society, edited by Edward Aspinall and Marcus Mietzner, pp. 199–218. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.


Badan Pusat Statistik Propinsi Jawa Timur [Central Statistics Agency of East Java]. 2001. Penduduk Jawa Timur: Hasil Sensus Penduduk Tahun 2000 [Population of East Java: Results of the 2000 population census]. Jakarta: Central Statistics Agency.

Badan Pusat Statistik Propinsi Sumatra Utara [Central Statistics Agency of North Sumatra]. 2001. Karakteristik Penduduk Sumatera Utara: Hasil Sensus Penduduk 2000 [Characteristics of the population of North Sumatra: Results of the 2000 population census]. Medan: Central Statistics Agency of North Sumatra.

Gatra. July 18, 1998. Solidaritas Arek Surabaya [Surabayan-style solidarity].

Harian Analisa. May 7, 2010. 150 Tokoh Masyarakat Tionghoa Siap Menangkan Ajib-Binsar, Perhimpunan INTI Sumut Restui INTI Medan Dukung Ajib-Binsar [150 Chinese community leaders prepared to help Ajib-Binsar to win, INTI of North Sumatra allowed INTI of Medan to support Ajib-Binsar].

Harian Global. March 30, 2010. Ratusan Warga Tionghoa Bersilaturrahmi denga Ajib-Binsar [Hundreds of Chinese folks interacted with Ajib-Binsar].

―. April 30, 2009. Olo Panggabean Meninggal Dunia [Olo Panggabean passed away].

Harian Mandiri. May 11, 2012. DPRDSU: Pemasok Narkoba Dari Pelabuhan Portklang ke Indonesia Libatkan Mafia Internasional [North Sumatra Provincial Parliament: Drug supply from Port Klang to Indonesia involves international mafia].

Harian Orbit. November 16, 2010. Kepala dan Sekretaris BPPT Medan Diduga Pungli Rp300 jt Perbulan, “Segera Dipanggil Walikota Medan” [Head and secretary of BPPT of Medan suspected of collecting Rp.300 million of illegal extra money each month, “Should be summoned by the mayor immediately”].

―. November 15, 2010. Pungli Berdalih Uang Jasa di BPPT Kota Medan, “Copot Syafruddin” [BPPT of Medan involved in collecting “service charge,” “Remove Syafruddin”].

―. November 12, 2010. Tidak Beri Uang Keamanan, Preman Pukul Ibu Rumahtangga [Refused to pay protection money, preman beat up housewife].

―. October 15, 2010. Bekukan Aset Bos PT Indo Palapa, “Tangkap Benny Basri” [Freezing assets of PT Indo Palapa’s boss, “Arrest Benny Basri”].

Jawa Pos. April 10, 2004. Ir Arifli Harbianto, Satu-satunya Calon Anggota DPRD Sby, 2004–2009 dari Etnis Tionghoa: Saya Mewakili Partai, Bukan Mewakili Etnis [Ir Arifli Harbianto, the only Surabaya City Parliamentary candidate of Chinese descent, 2004–09: I represent the party, not ethnic group].

―. March 26, 2004. Murdaya Poo, Pengusaha Etnis Tionghoa yang Jadi Caleg PDIP, Didukung Puluhan Pengusaha, Ingin Hapus Diskriminasi [Murdaya Poo, ethnic Chinese businessman who becomes PDIP’s candidate, supported by dozens of businesspeople, wants to eliminate discrimination].

Medan Zao Bao 棉兰早报. October 9, 2010. Dongzhaowa Qiyejia Cishan Jijinhui Yu Sishui Huayi Lianyihui Yingsong Dongzhaowa Xinjiu Junqu Siling, Jiaqiang Lianxi 东爪哇企业家慈善基金会与泗水华裔联谊会迎送东爪哇新旧军区司令,加强联系 [East Java Entrepreneur Charitable Foundation and Surabaya Chinese Association organize welcome and farewell dinner for former and new East Java military chiefs].

Rela Warta 诚报. June 25–July 1, 2004. Huazu Xuanmin Yao Xuan Shui? 选民要选谁?[Whom should Chinese voters vote for?].

―. April 8, 2004. Gao Jingai De Duzhe Shu 告敬爱的读者书 [To all readers].

―. April 3, 2004. Yao Zhengque Shiyong Women De Xuanjuquan (2) 要正确使用我们的选举权(2)[We should exercise our voting rights wisely (2)].

―. April 2, 2004. Yao Zhengque Shiyong Women De Xuanjuquan (1) 要正确使用我选举权(1)[We should exercise our voting rights wisely (1)].

―. March 11, 2004. Xuanmin Yao Jizhu Saba Nian Qian De Jintian, Buyao Zai Xuan Shoujiupai Yiyuan Houxuanren 选民要记住卅八年前的今天,不要再选守[旧]派议员候选人 [Voters must remember the tragedy 38 years ago, never vote for conservative candidates again].

―. March 3, 2004. Buyao Xuan Ceng Yanzhong Qinfan Huaren Jiben Renquan De Yiyuan Houxuanren 不要选曾严重侵犯华人基本人权的议员候选人 [Never vote for candidates who violated human rights of ethnic Chinese in the past].

Sujatmoko Bambang; Afan Bey Hutasuhut; Irwan E. Siregar; and Sarluhut Napitupulu. 1995. Si Bergajul Ringan Membunuh [Rascals who kill people easily], Gatra. March 18, 1995.

Waspada. October 15, 2010. Usut kasus pajak PT Indo Palapa [Investigating PT Indo Palapa case].

―. May 7, 2010. 150 Tokoh Masyarakat Tionghoa Siap Menangkan Ajib-Binsar [150 Chinese community leaders prepared to help Ajib-Binsar to win].

―. March 25, 2008. Hari Ini Ratusan Pelaku UKM Unjukrasa Keprihatinan [Today hundreds of SME owners attend public protest].

Xun Bao 讯报. November 2, 2010. Jianzu Xingjian Xukezheng Xingpian, INDO PALAPA Gongsi Laoban Bei Yaoqiu Ti Shenpan 建筑兴建许可证行骗,INDO PALAPA公司老板被要求提审 [Submitting false information in construction permit application, Indo Palapa’s boss was requested to be persecuted].

Zheng Bao Daily 正报. February 16, 2015. Fakanci: Women Rulie Le 词:我们入列了 [Foreword: We have joined the team].

Online sources

ANTARA News. March 31, 2010. Gayus Tambunan Arrested,, accessed on September 3, 2010.

―. March 27, 2010. Key Witness in Alleged Police Case Mafia Flees to S’pore,, accessed on September 3, 2010.

Bambang Soed. October 28, 2002. Duel Di antara Anggota, Apel Pemuda Medan Dibatalkan [Duel between members, Medan Youth Assembly canceled], Tempo,, accessed on August 4, 2013.

Batak Pos. December 5, 2013. Tak Mampu Stop Pungli di BPPT Medan, Copot Wirya Alrahman [Could not stop unauthorized collections, sack Wirya Alrahman],, accessed on December 29, 2013. January 12, 2014. “Diorbitkan” Gus Dur dari Keturunan China, Rusdi Kirana Jadi Wakil Ketum PKB [“Surrounded” by Gus Dur of Chinese descent, Rusdi Kirana becomes deputy chairperson of PKB],, accessed on February 1, 2015.

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1986. The Forms of Capital. Translated by Richard Nice. Marxists Internet Archive,, accessed on June 17, 2014.

City Population. 2012. City Population’s website, February 18, 2012,, accessed on December 21, 2013.

Detik News. December 2, 2009. Murdaya Poo Dipecat dari PDIP dan DPR [Murdaya Poo dismissed from PDIP and national parliament],, accessed on December 14, 2013.

Harian Andalas. May 17, 2014. Badan Kenaziran Masjid Tuntut Emerald Garden Robohkan Tembok Pembatas [Inspection body of mosque request Emerald Garden to demolish the Parapet],, accessed on October 30, 2014.

Harian Orbit. June 25, 2013. Lagi, Al-Washliyah Beri Tamin Keranda Mayat [Again, Al-Washliyah gives Tamin a coffin],, accessed on July 29, 2013.

―. June 10, 2013. Penyerobotan Tanah Negara di Helvetia Menuai Kemarahan, Tamin Sukardi Resmi Dilapor ke KPK [Seizure of state land in Helvetia arouses public outrage, Tamin Sukardi has been reported to KPK],, accessed on July 28, 2013.

―. February 7, 2012. Perubuhan Masjid Raudhatul Islam, Oknum MUI Cari Keuntungan Materi [MUI leaders gain material benefits from demolition of Raudhatul Islam Mosque],, accessed on July 29, 2013.

―. December 7, 2011. Mafia Tanah Sengsarakan Rakyat [Land mafia cause suffering to people],, accessed on April 13, 2013.

―. December 5, 2011. Tangkap Tamin, Mujianto & Benny Basri [Arrest Tamin, Mujianto and Benny Basri],, accessed on April 13, 2013.

―. November 30, 2011. Mujianto Dituding Mafia Tanah [Mujianto accused of being land mafia],, accessed on April 13, 2013.

―. November 17, 2011. Tangkap Tamin Sukardi [Arrest Tamin Sukardi],, accessed on January 11, 2014.

Harian Sumut Pos. April 23, 2013. Menuju Parpol Terbaik di Sumut [Becoming the best political party in North Sumatra],, accessed on August 3, 2013.

―. March 23, 2013. Massa Ancam Bakar Hotel Emerald Garden [Masses threaten to burn down Emerald Garden Hotel],, accessed on July 29, 2013.

―. November 9, 2011. Mafia Tanah Hilangkan Nurani [Land mafia have lost their conscience],, accessed on April 13, 2013.

―. November 8, 2011. Warga Sari Rejo Iri dengan Benny Basri [Sari Rejo folks envious of Benny Basri],, accessed on April 13, 2013.

Huang Kun Zhang 黄昆章. November 28, 2005. Cong Long Yang Ri Bao: De Tingkan Kan Yinni Huawen BaoYe De Cangsang 从《龙阳日报》的停刊看印尼华文报业的沧桑 [The ceased publication of Harian Naga Surya: The changing phases of Chinese-language dailies in Indonesia],, accessed on October 29, 2014.

Jawa Pos National Network. February 23, 2011. Evaluasi Perda Penghambat Investasi Diperketat Tindaklanjut Keluhan Presiden SBY [Evaluation of local regulations that hampered investment tightened after the complaint of president SBY],, accessed on November 1, 2012.

Kompas. January 19, 2015. Rusdi Kirana, Pebisnis dan Politikus di Wantimpres [Rusdi Kirana, businessman and politician in presidential advisory council],, accessed on February 1, 2015.

Medan Bisnis. August 29, 2013. Ajib Shah Mulus Pimpin Golkar Sumut [Ajib Shah leads Golkar of North Sumatra with integrity],, accessed on January 12, 2014.

Pancasila Youth of North Sumatra’s website. March 23, 2010. H. Anif Shah dan Keluarga Memberi Dukungan Sepenuhnya kepada Oasangan Calon H. Ajib Shah-Binsar Situmorang [H. Anif Shah and family give full support to H. Ajib Shah-Binsar Situmorang],, accessed on August 3, 2013.

Steer, Liesbet. 2006. Business Licensing and One Stop Shops in Indonesia. The Donor Committee for Enterprise Development (DCED)’s website,, accessed on February 28, 2013.

Suara Nasional News. January 30, 2013. Terkait Perubuhan Masjid Raudhatul Islam Polresta Medan Mencari Jalan Terbaik [Medan police seek best way to settle demolition of Raudhatul Islam Mosque],, accessed on July 29, 2013.

Surabaya Pagi. September 2, 2014. Demi Mengabdi Ke Rakyat Tinggalkan Posisi Direktur [Resigning from the position of director for the sake of the people],;3b1ca0a43b79bdfd9f9305b8129829626fe46bd56abb7d1eadec258a94c19820, accessed on February 4, 2015.

Tempo. May 23, 2014. Alasan Hary Tanoe Mundur dari Hanura [The reasons Hary Tanoe leaves Hanura],, accessed on February 2, 2015.

―. February 25, 2013. Alasan Hary Tanoe Keluar NasDem dan Pilih Hanura [The reasons Hary Tanoe leaves NasDem and chooses Hanura],, accessed on February 2, 2015.

The Jakarta Globe. October 28, 2014. Jokowi Shows Business-Friendly Credentials, Pays Surprise Visit to BKPM,, accessed on October 30, 2014.

―. October 9, 2014. Red-White Coalition Prepared to Block Any Jokowi Policy,, accessed on October 30, 2014.

―. September 2, 2014. Hartati Granted Parole by Fellow Democrat,, accessed on February 4, 2015.

―. September 12, 2012. KPK Detains Tycoon Hartati Murdaya over Bribery Allegation,, accessed on December 14, 2013.

―. February 24, 2012. What’s Worse, a Corrupter or a “Preman” Thug?, accessed on February 27, 2012.

The Jakarta Post. May 18, 2014. Hanura Joins PDI-P Coalition, PKS Woos Prabowo,, accessed on February 4, 2015.

―. July 3, 2013. Past History Forgotten as Hary Meets Wiranto,, accessed on July 15, 2013.

―. February 5, 2013. Hartati’s Political Fall Now Official,, accessed on February 4, 2015.

―. January 28, 2012. Protest against Mosque Relocation Turns Wild,, accessed on July 29, 2013.

Tomsa, Dirk. 2009. The Eagle Has Crash-Landed. Inside Indonesia, July–September 2009,, accessed on January 10, 2014.

Tribun Medan. February 4, 2012. Sweeping di [Em]erald Garden tidak Benar [Sweeping at [Em]erald Garden is not true],, accessed on July 29, 2013.

World Bank Group. n.d. What Is Decentralization?, accessed on March 9, 2010.

Audio-visual/video sources

Oppenheimer, Joshua. 2012. The Act of Killing. 159 mins. DVD Documentary. Final Cut for Real, Copenhagen.


List of Informants

Public Figures


Mely G. Tan (陈玉兰) (sociologist), June 8, 2010.


Dirk A. Buiskool (historian), July 14, 2010.

Brilian Moktar (莫粧量) (member of North Sumatra provincial parliament, 2009–present), July 16, 2010.

Johan Tjongiran (章生荣) (social activist), August 3, 2010.

Hasyim a.k.a. Oei Kien Lim (黄建霖) (member of Medan city parliament, 2009–present), August 11, 2010.

Sofyan Tan (陈金扬) (candidate in Medan’s 2010 mayoral election; social activist), August 23, 2010.

Anuar Shah (chairperson, Pancasila Youth’s North Sumatra branch), October 30, 2010.

Yap Juk Lim (叶郁林) (ethnic Chinese businessperson engaged in the snack production industry; chairperson, Medan Deli Regional Forum of Small and Medium Enterprises [FORDA UKM Medan Deli]), November 16, 2010.


Dédé Oetomo (温忠孝) (social activist), December 24, 2010.

Anton Prijatno (王炳金) (ethnic Chinese businessperson engaged in the distribution of asphalt; former member of the East Java provincial legislature, 1977–87; former member of the national legislature, 1987–97), February 24, 2011.

Henky Kurniadi (游经善) (ethnic Chinese businessperson engaged in the real estate industry; national parliamentarian representing East Java 1, 2014–present), March 9, 2011.

Harry Tanudjaja (陈国樑) (chairperson, Surabaya branch of the Partai Kasih Demokrasi Indonesia (PKDI); candidate in 1999 and 2009 general elections; lawyer), March 31, 2011.

Samas H. Widjaja (黄三槐) (former chief editor, Rela Warta [《诚报》]; former adviser, Harian Naga Surya [《龙阳日报》]), May 5, 2011.

Other Informants (with Pseudonyms)


Daniel (deceased) (former media activist), July 13, 2010; September 17, 2010.

Farid (ethnic Chinese businessperson engaged in the garment production industry), July 15, 2010.

Ivan (ethnic Chinese businessperson engaged in real estate), July 16, 2010.

Halim (NGO activist), July 26, 2010.

Usman (NGO activist), July 30, 2010.

Susanto (ethnic Chinese businessperson engaged in the distribution of toys), August 4, 2010.

Christopher (ethnic Chinese businessperson engaged in the frozen seafood industry), August 18, 2010.

Erik (ethnic Chinese businessperson engaged in the iron and plastics industry), August 25, 2010.

Surya (media activist), September 17, 2010.

Andi (journalist), September 20, 2010.

Melani (person in charge, Medan Zao Bao [《棉兰早报》] and Su Bei Ri Bao [《苏北日报》]), October 22, 2010.

Janice (staff, Medan Zao Bao/Su Bei Ri Bao; former staff, Hua Shang Bao [《华商报》]), November 12, 2010.

Joe (person in charge, Xun Bao [《讯报》]), November 5, 2010.

Setiawan (person in charge, Harian Promosi Indonesia [《印广日报》]), November 8, 2010.

Eddie (ethnic Chinese businessperson engaged in the distribution of mechanical power-transmission products), November 10, 2010.

Joko (NGO activist), November 11, 2010.

Patrick (person in charge, Hao Bao [《好报》]), November 15, 2010.


Harianto (ethnic Chinese businessperson engaged in the beverage production industry), November 23, 2010.

Yahya (university professor), December 31, 2010.

Junus (university professor), January 11, 2011.

Atan (ethnic Chinese businessperson engaged in the real estate industry; developer-cum-contractor), February 28, 2011.

Bambang (ethnic Chinese ceramic tile factory owner), March 3, 2011.

Vincent (adviser, Si Shui Chen Bao [《泗水晨报》]), April 7, 2011.

Yati (former staff of a real estate company in Surabaya’s Chinatown), April 8, 2011.

Suhaimi (university lecturer), April 27, 2011.

Wahyu (economic analyst; university lecturer), May 18, 2011.

1) Interview with Susanto, an ethnic Chinese businessperson engaged in the distribution of toys, Medan, August 4, 2010.

2) I also had a personal communication with an academic in Jakarta.

3) Calculated from Central Statistics Agency of North Sumatra (2001, 40, Table 6) and Central Statistics Agency of East Java (2001, 75, Table 10.9). These are the latest official figures on the Chinese Indonesian populations in Medan and Surabaya.

4) Personal communication with Mely G. Tan, sociologist, Jakarta, June 8, 2010.

5) Interview with Halim, NGO activist, Medan, July 26, 2010.

6) Interview with Daniel (deceased), former media activist, Medan, September 17, 2010; interview with Surya, media activist, Medan, September 17, 2010; interview with Halim, July 26, 2010.

7) Interview with Halim, July 26, 2010. This point is elaborated in the section titled “Relations with Preman.”

8) Interview with Wahyu, economic analyst and university lecturer, Surabaya, May 18, 2011.

9) Subianto and his wife (Suharto’s daughter) were divorced after the end of the Suharto regime.

10) Interview with Johan Tjongiran, social activist, Medan, August 3, 2010; interview with Sofyan Tan, a candidate in Medan’s 2010 mayoral election and social activist, Medan, August 23, 2010; interview with Harianto, an ethnic Chinese businessperson engaged in the beverage production industry, Surabaya, November 23, 2010.

11) These are the latest data available. There is no further update after 2011.

12) For the background and characteristics of Guided Democracy, see Ricklefs (2008, 292–321).

13) Among all political parties, PDI-P has the largest number of members with a preman background. The party greatly appealed to preman through its populist approach and pro-“little people” rhetoric (see Wilson 2010, 204).

14) Interview with Susanto, August 4, 2010; interview with Eddie, an ethnic Chinese businessperson engaged in the distribution of mechanical power-transmission products, Medan, November 10, 2010.

15) Interview with Hasyim a.k.a. Oei Kien Lim, member of Medan city parliament, 2009–present, Medan, August 11, 2010; interview with Sofyan Tan, August 23, 2010; interview with Halim, July 26, 2010; interview with Joko, NGO activist, Medan, November 11, 2010.

16) Interview with Johan Tjongiran, August 3, 2010; interview with Andi, journalist, Medan, September 20, 2010.

17) Interview with Johan Tjongiran, August 3, 2010.

18) Interview with Daniel (deceased), September 17, 2010; interview with Johan Tjongiran, August 3, 2010.

19) Interview with Andi, September 20, 2010.

20) Interview with Halim, July 26, 2010.

21) For instance, an indigenous businesswoman who owned a restaurant in Medan was beaten by two preman on November 4, 2010, as she refused to pay the Rp.500,000 “protection money,” which she deemed too high (see Harian Orbit, November 12, 2010). In addition, preman often extort money from small and medium businesspeople, including street vendors (pedagang kaki lima), who are mostly indigenous Indonesians, in exchange for “protection” (see Tan 2004, 134-136).

22) Interview with Susanto, August 4, 2010; interview with Sofyan Tan, August 23, 2010.

23) Interview with Anuar Shah, chairperson, PP’s North Sumatra branch, Medan, October 30, 2010.

24) These are the latest data available at the time of writing.

25) Interview with Johan Tjongiran, August 3, 2010; interview with Susanto, August 4, 2010; interview with Dirk A. Buiskool, historian, Medan, July 14, 2010.

26) See also Harian Global (April 30, 2009).

27) Interview with Andi, September 20, 2010.

28) Interview with Dédé Oetomo, social activist, Surabaya, December 24, 2010.

29) Interview with Dédé Oetomo, social activist, Surabaya, December 24, 2010.

30) Ironically, in May 1998, when riots against the Chinese broke out in several major cities in Indonesia, it was reported that the local Chinese Indonesian business community in Surabaya was able to guarantee relative peace in the city by paying generously for local military protection, in contrast to many other cities such as Medan, Jakarta and Solo, where all troops mysteriously disappeared when the riots broke out (Dick 2003, 475; Purdey 2006, 113–122).

31) Interview with Joko, November 11, 2010.

32) Interview with Joko, November 11, 2010.

33) Interview with Erik, an ethnic Chinese businessperson engaged in the iron and plastics industry, Medan, August 25, 2010.

34) Personal communication with Yati, former staff of a real estate company in Surabaya’s Chinatown, April 8, 2011.

35) Interview with Junus, university professor, Surabaya, January 11, 2011.

36) There were five pairs of candidates contesting in the 2004 presidential election: Wiranto-Solahuddin Wahid (nominated by the Party of Functional Groups, Golkar), Megawati Sukarnoputri-Hasyim Muzadi (nominated by the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, PDI-P), Amien Rais-Siswono Yudo Husodo (nominated by the National Mandate Party, PAN), Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono-Jusuf Kalla (nominated by the Democrat Party, PD), and Hamzah Haz-Agum Gumelar (nominated by the United Development Party, PPP) (Aris et al. 2005, 71–74). The Yudhoyono-Kalla pair was elected.

37) The Gemala Group is a conglomerate engaged in automotive and property development businesses.

38) The Lippo Group is a conglomerate engaged in retailing, media, real estate, health care, and financial businesses.

39) Interview with Yahya, university professor, Surabaya, December 31, 2010.

40) Interview with Hasyim, August 11, 2010.

41) Interview with Sofyan Tan, August 23, 2010; interview with Surya, September 17, 2010.

42) Interview with Sofyan Tan, August 23, 2010.

43) There were three pairs of candidates contesting in the 2009 presidential election: Jusuf Kalla-Wiranto (nominated by Golkar), Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono-Boediono (nominated by PD), and Megawati Sukarnoputri-Prabowo (nominated by PDI-P) (Rizal 2010, 61).

44) However, Siti was granted parole by the Ministry of Justice in September 2014 (The Jakarta Globe, September 2, 2014). The case of the Poo family indicates that splitting political loyalties and financial support between different political elites does not necessarily bring long-term protection and guarantees for the family members’ business or political career.

45) Interview with Christopher, an ethnic Chinese businessperson engaged in the frozen seafood industry, Medan, August 18, 2010.

46) Interview with Brilian Moktar, member of North Sumatra provincial parliament, 2009–present, Medan, July 16, 2010.

47) Interview with Hasyim, August 11, 2010.

48) Interview with Yap Juk Lim, an ethnic Chinese businessperson engaged in the snack production industry and chairperson of the Medan Deli Regional Forum of Small and Medium Enterprises (FORDA UKM Medan Deli), Medan, November 16, 2010.

49) Interview with Harry Tanudjaja, chairperson, Surabaya branch of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Devotion (PKDI); candidate in the 1999 and 2009 general elections; and lawyer, Surabaya, March 31, 2011.

50) Interview with Simon Lekatompessy, member of the Surabaya city parliament, 2009–14, Surabaya, May 5, 2011.

51) Interview with Henky Kurniadi, an ethnic Chinese businessperson engaged in the real estate industry and national parliamentarian representing East Java 1, 2014–present, Surabaya, March 9, 2011.

52) Interview with Daniel (deceased), July 13, 2010; interview with Johan Tjongiran, August 3, 2010; interview with Susanto, August 4, 2010; interview with Atan, an ethnic Chinese businessperson engaged in the real estate industry and a developer-cum-contractor, Surabaya, February 28, 2011.

53) Interview with Johan Tjongiran, August 3, 2010; interview with Susanto, August 4, 2010.

54) Interview with Johan Tjongiran, August 3, 2010.

55) Gayus Tambunan is a former tax official who was arrested by police on March 30, 2010, for alleged tax evasion of Rp.25 billion (see ANTARA News, March 27, 2010; March 31, 2010). Although Tambunan is of Batak origin, an ethnic minority group in Indonesia, his ethnicity is never problematized by the public because Batak are one of the indigenous groups in the country.

56) Interview with Susanto, August 4, 2010.

57) Interview with Yap Juk Lim, November 16, 2010.

58) Interview with Yap Juk Lim, November 16, 2010.

59) Interview with Yap Juk Lim, November 16, 2010.

60) Interview with Sofyan Tan, August 23, 2010.

61) Interview with Yap Juk Lim, November 16, 2010.

62) Interview with Ivan, an ethnic Chinese businessperson engaged in real estate, Medan, July 16, 2010.

63) Interview with Usman, NGO activist, Medan, July 30, 2010.

64) Interview with Junus, January 11, 2011.

65) Interview with Junus, January 11, 2011.

66) Interview with Bambang, an ethnic Chinese ceramic tile factory owner, Surabaya, March 3, 2011.

67) Interview with Junus, January 11, 2011.

68) Interview with Junus, January 11, 2011.

69) Interview with Junus, January 11, 2011. Prijatno was a member of the East Java provincial legislature from 1977 to 1987 and a member of the national legislature from 1987 to 1997 (interview with Anton Prijatno, an ethnic Chinese businessperson engaged in the distribution of asphalt; a former member of the East Java provincial legislature, 1977–87; and a former member of the national legislature, 1987–97, Surabaya, February 24, 2011).

70) Interview with Anton Prijatno, February 24, 2011.

71) Interview with Anton Prijatno, February 24, 2011.

72) Interview with Junus, January 11, 2011.

73) Interview with Anton Prijatno, February 24, 2011.

74) Interview with Junus, January 11, 2011.

75) Interview with Daniel (deceased), September 17, 2010.

76) Interview with Joko, November 11, 2010.

77) Interview with Usman, July 30, 2010; interview with Christopher, August 18, 2010; interview with Joko, November 11, 2010.

78) Interview with Sofyan Tan, August 23, 2010; interview with Joko, November 11, 2010.

79) Interview with Usman, July 30, 2010.

80) Interview with Halim, July 26, 2010.

81) Interview with Joko, November 11, 2010.

82) As Harian Promosi Indonesia had been running at a loss due to low readership, Honggandhi eventually lost all of the capital he had invested in the press. He later moved to Jakarta and worked in a hotel (interview with Setiawan, person in charge, Harian Promosi Indonesia [《印广日报》], Medan, November 8, 2010).

83) For more details of Medan’s 2010 mayoral election, see Aspinall et al. (2011).

84) Interview with Christopher, August 18, 2010.

85) Interview with Farid, an ethnic Chinese businessperson engaged in the garment production industry, Medan, July 15, 2010; interview with Ivan, July 16, 2010.

86) Interview with Sofyan Tan, August 23, 2010.

87) This interpretation was given by Surya, a media activist in Medan (interview with Surya, September 17, 2010).

88) Interview with Ivan, July 16, 2010; interview with Halim, July 26, 2010.

89) Interview with Halim, July 26, 2010.

90) Interview with Junus, January 11, 2011.

91) Interview with Anton Prijatno, February 24, 2011.

92) For a background to Suharto’s policy of forced assimilation, see Suryadinata (1992) and Coppel (1983).

93) Si Shui Chen Bao is a subsidiary paper of Guo Ji Ri Bao, the largest Chinese-language daily in Jakarta.

94) The closing down of Rela Warta was due mainly to the withdrawal of advertising by its main advertiser. The closing down of Harian Naga Surya was due to low readership. For more details, see Huang (2005).

95) Interviews with people in charge and staff of local Chinese-language presses in Medan and Surabaya.

96) See Harian Orbit (October 15, 2010) and Waspada (October 15, 2010).

97) See Xun Bao (November 2, 2010).

98) For examples, see Rela Warta (March 11, 2004; April 2, 2004; April 3, 2004; June 25–July 1, 2004).

99) For example, see Rela Warta (March 3, 2004).

100) See also Li (2008, 360).

101) Interview with Samas H. Widjaja, former chief editor, Rela Warta (《诚报》), and former adviser, Harian Naga Surya (《龙阳日报》), Surabaya, May 5, 2011.

102) PSMTI is a major ethnic Chinese organization formed in Indonesia after the end of the New Order.

103) In fact, Medan was the site of the first violence against Chinese in May 1998 (Purdey 2006, 114).

104) Interview with Dédé Oetomo, December 24, 2010.

105) Interview with Suhaimi, university lecturer, Surabaya, April 27, 2011.

106) Muslim People’s Forum is an Islamic organization in Indonesia.