Clientelism and Thuggery

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  • Clientelism and Thuggery

    Clientelism and Thuggery

    TEMPO.CO, JakartaStrange relationships between officials and mass organizations have arisen in many regions, including in Bekasi. Ending direct elections for regional heads is not a solution.

    The involvement of mass organizations in the collection of parking fees in Bekasi, West Java, is one example of political clientelism. Reciprocal arrangements between officials and mass organizations like this will damage democracy and local governance.

    This strange relationship was uncovered after a demonstration by a mass organization at a gas station in Jalan Raya Narogong, Bekasi, in October. The demonstrators blocked the street demanding the right to manage the parking at a minimarket at the gas station. Rather than stopping this thuggery, head of the Bekasi City Revenue Agency Aan Suhanda asked the manager of the minimarket to work together with the mass organization in managing the parking.

    The stance of this official is an illustration of clientelism, a long-term reciprocal patron-client relationship. It is different from the simpler concept of patronage, as clientelism is more widespread and involves many people. Giving money to voters is an example of patronage. Officials or politicians do not need to know the voters. The clientelism relationship is more complex, repeated and personal.

    This phenomenon has flourished again in many regions during the Reformasi era. Many new mass organizations have appeared to sell support to the political elite. Officials and politicians have justified any method to garner the support of voters. After winning, they return the favor to their supporting clients. Officials usually share out concessions such as parking, government projects, donations, and positions.

    Bekasi, which is led by Mayor Rahmat Effendi, has not escaped this trend. In many statements, he seems to be positioning himself as the patron of many mass organizations in Bekasi. Rahmat has long been in power in this city, even before becoming mayor. He first became deputy mayor in 2008, then he won the Bekasi mayoral election in 2013. In last year's election, he was reelected for the 2018-2023 period.

    The practice of clientelism as seen in Bekasi only benefits officials and a handful of mass organizations, but everybody else loses out. The management of regional government becomes ineffective and inefficient because it needs to accommodate the interests of mass organizations and other clients. The people and companies lose out because of the growth of thuggery in parking areas, for example, created a new cost for business and fear among ordinary citizens.

    This unhealthy relationship will also damage democracy. Clientelism makes a prospective regional head who is clean and anti-corruption will find it difficult to win elections. This is especially true because people’s political literacy is still poor. But the solution is not to end direct elections of regional heads, and then return to the selection of regional heads by provincial legislative councils as was done in the New Order.

    In the era of President Suharto, when regents and mayors were not directly elected by the people, patronage and clientelism flourished in the regions. At that time, thugs were often used by government officials to gather support and to put pressure on political opponents. In return, groups of thugs were repaid in the form of backing from officials and economic benefits.

    Democratization through direct local elections is one way to reduce clientelism. However, the democratic mechanism must be accompanied by other elements, such as transparency of regional budgeting, the serious eradication of corruption and an increase in public political literacy. Blaming or scapegoating and then ending direct local elections will only lead to a dark political climate like that of the New Order era.

    Read the Complete Story in this Week's Edition of Tempo English Magazine