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Deasy Simandjuntak

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Visiting period:November 2011 to December 2011
Department:     Anthropology


Dr. Deasy Simandjuntak is currently affiliated with the Royal Netherlands Institute for Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV) in Leiden, The Netherlands, as a Post-Doctoral Fellow working on the role of elites on bio-fuel policies in Indonesia. She had received her PhD in Political Anthropology in 2010 from the University of Amsterdam (UvA), with the dissertation entitled “Who Shall Be Raja? Patronage Democracy in North Sumatra Indonesia”. Her current research interests are citizenship, democratization and decentralization in Indonesia. One of her important publications is an article entitled “Milk-Coffee at 10AM: Encountering the State through Pilkada in Indonesia” in Gerry van Klinken and Joshua Barker, eds, State of Authority: the State In Society in Indonesia, published by Cornell Southeast Asia Program Publication in 2009, in which she observed “gossip” as means of forming political preferences in North Sumatra.

At the University of Freiburg, she is working on her article on the topic of Citizenship in a Decentralized Indonesia, which is going to be published at the end of her fellowship. Her extensive experience in teaching and research also includes a teaching position at  the Department of International Relations, University of Indonesia 2000-2001, 2003-2004 and 2006-2007, to which Department she is still affiliated. Her other experience also comprises of making a documentary film entitled “Performance of Authority in Indonesia” from audio-visual archives at the KITLV, The Netherlands.


Article written during the fellowship:

Simandjuntak, Deasy (2012): Gifts and Promises: Patronage Democracy in a Decentralised Indonesia. In: European Journal of East Asian Studies, Vol. 11: 99-126.


“Someone to watch over me”

Navigating democracy, citizenship and clientelism in a decentralized Indonesia


How do we define the situation in which citizenship exists side by side with clientelism? To what extent is citizenship achievable in social structures marred with patron-client networks?

A discussion on various aspects of democracy such as good governance and popular participation inevitably reaches the question of citizenship. Rights pertaining to the individual freedom, participation in politics and standard fulfilment on social, economy and cultural well-being constitute the civil, political and social citizenship. Yet, moving beyond a mere understanding of the act of the state to bestow rights and demand responsibilities of its subjects, citizenship beckons a two-fold emphasis on the discussion of social plurality as well as the state’s capacity to ensure equal treatment for its people(s).

Late Democracies, in which patron-client relations form the majority of social structures, face constant challenges in their citizenship pertaining to the inequality, power and class, that produce problems in the distribution of resources. In order to remedy this situation, centralised governance was then forced to accommodate decentralization. Allocating more power to lower level governments is believed to beget an equal and effective resource distribution because this allows governments to address local preferences for public goods. In addition, decentralization is considered as ensuring greater public participation through local elections. This is seen as a steady step towards the fulfilment of rights and obligations in citizenship.

Nevertheless, does decentralization really accommodate an equal distribution of resources? What factors, pertaining to the dyadic relations between patrons and clients, continue to limit the progress of democratization and citizenship?

Taking the case of pemekaran in Indonesia, especially in North Sumatra, my research explores the rhetoric of equality, local preference, and local welfare that are used by the central government and local elites in the decentralization campaign. Pemekaran refers to the carving out of new (autonomous) administrative territories out of existing ones, for the alleged aim of enhancing the economy of the people in the territory. In Indonesia, the support for a pemekaran is mobilized, more often than not, based on the rhetoric that the central government has neglected the needs of a particular ethno-religious group in a region. The planning to create Tapanuli Province, for example, was orchestrated by Batak elites who claimed that the central state has ignored the economic decline of the local Bataks. In order to spur envy among groups, the elites also juxtaposed the identity of Christian-Batak with other major ethnicities in the province, namely Malay and/or Javanese, who were presumably more privileged due to their being Islamic, -Islam being the main religion in the central state. At the same time, the elites still planned to create new bureaucratic centres in order to extract central state’s resources in the form of subsidies.

My research also sheds a light into the dynamics of citizenship and “client-ship” in Indonesia. Unlike citizenship, “client-ship” is not about rights, but favours. A client does not wait for “policies” that benefit the society in general, but individual “gifts” as a remuneration of his political support for his patron. I also argue, however, that Indonesians can be citizens and clients interchangeably. They are citizens when they use their driving-licenses, birth-certificates and other paperwork to apply for jobs, obtain benefits, or to be able to vote. Yet they become clients when they submit to paying extra fees to get these licenses and certificates, bribe “insiders” to get jobs in the civil service, avoid taxes, or obtain money or gifts when they vote for a particular candidate during local elections.

Last but not least, combining both the approaches of political science as well as anthropology, my research explores the sense-of-belonging of Indonesians to the Indonesian nation. The decentralization project, which emphasizes the notions of “sons-of-the-soil” and “watching over our own people”, might seem to undermine the loyalty to the nation for the sake of a gradual adherence to ethno-religious identities. Yet, as with the notions of “citizens” and “clients” that exist simultaneously, I argue that Indonesians may also continue to juggle between fulfilling their obligations to the nation state and adhering to local identities.



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