Sun, 07 Mar 1999

Hamengkubuwono X, a leader people trust

By Asip Agus Hasani

YOGYAKARTA (JP): One of the few cities that has retained its reputation as a peaceful place up to this day is the ancient city of Yogyakarta, which has been spared the rioting which has left much of Indonesia in ruins.

This is in times of political turmoil, a fact that should indeed be taken notice of as the Yogyakarta province, especially the city, is highly heterogeneous in terms of ethnicity, socioeconomic status and religion -- a diversity which has triggered social tension elsewhere in the country.

Although the military's harsh intervention in many of last years proreform demonstrations often provoked violent resistance by the demonstrating masses and even triggered massive rioting in cities all over Indonesia, such as Jakarta and Surakarta, Yogyakarta has managed to remained calm.

Being one of the hottest spots as far as student antigovernment protests are concerned and despite frequent clashes between security forces and demonstrators, to many's amazement, no major rioting occurred.

Along with Bali, Yogyakarta is therefore considered the "safest place" among major cities in Indonesia. Many credit this to Sultan Hamengku Buwono X, the most charismatic local leader who is also the governor of Yogyakarta province.

During last May's nationwide unrest which led to the fall of president Soeharto, Yogyakarta was among the cities that were home to daily student demonstrations. But among these cities, it was one of the few where the students' demands for reforms was paid attention to by their local leader, the sultan.

On May 20, just a day before Soeharto resigned from office, the sultan confirmed his support for peaceful political reform in the presence of an estimated one million people gathered in front of his palace.

"As a Javanese, I believe in the philosophy that power should serve the people," he said in a recent interview with The Jakarta Post.

His popularity has won him a good reputation on the national political stage and his name has already been listed as a possible presidential candidates along with other well-known names such as Megawati Soekarnoputri, Amien Rais, B.J. Habibie and Abdurrahman Wahid.

Despite his huge popularity in Yogyakarta, his critics label him a conservative and feudalistic leader, incapable of promoting the reforms modern Indonesia is demanding.

Nevertheless, the father of five has been able to maintain good foreign relations once established by his father, the late Sultan Hamengku Buwono IX.

Born Bandoro Raden Mas Herdjuno Darpito on April 2, 1946, Sultan Hamengku Buwono X received the royal name Kanjeng Gusti Pangeran Haryo (KGPH) Mangkubumi, after being named crown prince in his early adulthood.

Earning his Bachelor degree in laws from Gadjah Mada University in 1982, he ascended the throne in March 1989, five months after his father's death.

Married to Bandoro Raden Ayu (BRAy) Tatiek Dradjat Suprihastuti, who has now assumed the royal name Gusti Kanjeng Ratu Hemas, he is the father of five daughters: Gusti Raden Ajeng Nurmalita Sari, 27, Gusti Raden Ayu Nurma Gupita, 25, Gusti Raden Ajeng Nurkamnari Dewi, 21, Gusti Raden Ajeng Nurabra Juwita, 16, and Gusti Raden Ajeng Nur Astuti Wijareni, 13.

The following is an excerpt taken from an interview with the sultan.

Question: Some doubt your commitment to reform on the grounds that you, as a sultan, represent feudalism. What is your comment?

Answer: To agree or disagree is something natural. There are some people that know about my ideas and others who only know my "epidermis". Those criticizing me belong to the second category. But I don't really have a problem with it.

Q: But a palace is always associated with feudalism...

A: It's true. A palace is feudalistic and nepotistic. But I am smart enough to know how to behave inside the palace and outside of it. Do all people know about this?

Let's talk about Britain to illustrate my point. When Lady Diana died, the royal family and the public differed in opinion on the funeral of the princess, who was divorced from Prince Charles. Buckingham insisted on holding on to the centuries-old royal feudalistic tradition despite public objection.

What I want to say is that even in modern Europe, ancient feudalistic formalities are still maintained in disregard of public opinion.

This is not the case with the palace of Yogyakarta. Here every sultan has the right to change formality as time demands. That's exactly what I have been doing: innovation, administrative reorganization. I have modernized the way in which the palace is managed and distributed power.

Q: Would you explain the Javanese understanding of power?

A: The philosophy of power is universal. It doesn't make a difference whether a country is led by a monarch or a democrat as long as this leader sincerely serves the country.

Q: What is the purpose of the reform movement?

A: It intends to change things for the better. It's an agenda of change for anything that is no longer suitable for modern Indonesia. Reform would be incomplete without a change of the (political) structure. The reform movement will only be effective with the pursuit of its goals if the institutions are reformed too. Cultural reform is also a must.

Q: What was the mistake of the Soeharto administration that triggered the reform movement?

A: The Soeharto administration had a lot of weaknesses. It failed to change in times of fast developments because it did not communicate with the public.

Students targeted president Soeharto because he presented the inability or reluctance to change that was found throughout his administration. They knew reform would be impossible unless Soeharto resigned.

Q: After Soeharto's resignation, the nation was still rocked by turmoil and further riots were causing fear of disintegration. What do you think about that?

A: The economic crisis has brought about difficult times to everyone. As soon as people feel their lifestyles are being threatened and while social problems get worse, they seem to lose their tolerance of others.

Increasingly, many people are becoming dogmatic and ideological in their religion, and this is another problem. This explains why their religious tolerance is wearing thin. It's a dangerous seed of civil warfare.

Religious fundamentalism is growing out of the government misunderstanding of Indonesia's pluralism as the nation's biggest weakness. Conflicts have been suppressed, but not solved at their roots. Plurality is enriching as long as the differences are properly managed. Our founding fathers proved this to be true.

Q: Despite Yogyakarta's pluralistic population the city has stayed rather safe. What are the reasons?

A: Yogyakarta's safety has many reasons. The area is relatively small and people are generally well educated. Also, leaders communicate with the public. Yogyakarta is a miniature model proving that plurality does indeed work.

Q: Do you give yourself credit for this?

A: Some people argue that people here still respect me as their leader, but it seems unlikely that anybody has the power to control three million people nowadays. I believe people are aware of the fact that violence is not able to solve their problems.

Q: Do you agree with the idea of Gus Dur (the Nahdlatul Ulama leader) that Soeharto should be involved in a national reconciliatory dialog because of his remaining influence?

A: I believe Gus Dur has indeed good reasons to defend his assumption and I appreciate his proposal.

Proreform groups have split into two major camps. Those belonging to the Amien Rais section want to see Soeharto taken to court; the other camp gathering around Gus Dur want to take Soeharto to the reconciliatory table.

I believe that justice must be served; otherwise legal uncertainty would reign. But we must also be aware of the fact that Soeharto cannot simply be taken to court without adequate evidence.

We must be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that there is a political factor (in the Soeharto affair). The question is whether the trial of Soeharto will truly bring the nation peace.

Amien Rais proposes that Soeharto relinquishes a certain portion of his wealth to the state as an alternative for indictment. But this would not result in legal certainty either, would it?

The problem is much more complex because Soeharto has thousands of cronies throughout the country. If all of them were to be tried, would that be legal certainty or uncertainty?

Q: Many people hope that the upcoming general election will settle the country's political problem. How much change do you expect?

A: The election is vital, but what's more important is that it has to result in a legitimate government.

Q: Many fear that the election will set the stage for anarchy...

A: I can't predict whether violence will mar the election. It will be more democratic because of the revised electoral law that has been put in place. I am more and more concerned about the advancing rivalry among political parties who might start to employ "money politics".

There might be parties offering between Rp 10,000 and Rp 50,000 to people to get them to vote for them. I hope people accepting this money won't feel obliged to vote for the party.

Q: As a governor, which do you think is more suitable for Indonesia -- federalism or autonomy?

A: I would prefer if provinces were given a wider authority to manage their domestic affairs. The central government should only be able to oversee certain affairs such as foreign relations, defense, security, jurisdiction and finance. The ministries' jobs should be limited to coordinating provincial governments' activities.

In principle, the autonomy that I conceive has a lot in common with the one practiced in the U.S., where certain affairs like foreign politics, defense and finance are handled by the central government.

Q: Why should the unitary state be maintained at all?

A: Because the very nation whose independence was declared on Aug. 17, 1945 would no longer exist. Maybe the name would still be the Republic of Indonesia, but it would not be what it was meant to be by its founding fathers. It would be a completely different country and the 1945 Constitution would then have to be changed accordingly.

I know that the demand to turn Indonesia into a federal state is going to intensify. But many provinces are not prepared for a federal state because they don't have the human, financial and/or natural resources needed. A federal state should stay a vision for the future, not a short-term alternative.

Q: Do you think the provinces are already prepared for autonomy?

A: Well, it depends on the affairs they are supposed to handle.

Q: What about Yogyakarta?

A: It wouldn't be a problem for Yogyakarta. As soon as Indonesia was declared independent in 1945, Yogyakarta took care of its own internal affairs. This did not change until 1974 when the law on regional administration was passed and most affairs were taken over by the central government.

If this autonomy should be relinquished, Yogyakarta should not have a problem.

Q: How do you plan to eradicate poverty, especially in Gunung Kidul?

A: Gunung Kidul needs an irrigation system so the local farming industry will be able to plant a greater variety of crops, not just cassava all through the year. The local farmers should be independent in choosing the crops that suit their needs best.

Dwindling farmland in contrast to an increasing population rate is our main problem here. A logical alternative would be to allow farmers to grow cash crops.

Q: How is your relation to the Golkar party?

A: I am no longer a Golkar functionary, although I retain my membership. I have not decided yet which party I will vote for. (The sultan formerly headed the local Golkar chapter.)

Q: Do you have any relation to the Soehartos?

A: There has never been communication between the Yogyakarta palace and Soeharto. My father might have had relations with them since he knew Soeharto.

(Hamengku Buwono IX served as Soeharto's vice president from 1973 to 1978.)

We (the sultan and Soeharto) only used to meet at formal functions a long time ago.

Q: Many people support you as a presidential candidate. What's your comment?

A: I won't comment on that. I don't have to become a government official to serve the people.