The Sultanate of Yogyakarta is located in the southern part of the Island of Java, Indonesia overlooking the Indian Ocean in the south. It is surrounded by the province of central Java in the north, east and west. Its territory is not large. It is just a tiny kingdom but it is an important province in Indonesia. Its land is very fertile and very productive. The most well known agricultural product is snake fruit also known as Zalacca zalacca in Latin. It is also a popular tourism destination because there are ancient temples, nice view of Merapi volcano and living Javanese tradition like Batik and traditional dancing. Yogyakarta is a student city. There are many good schools and university there.
Lately the sultanate has been exposed by the press and in the focus of public attention in Indonesia because of its political problems. What’s seems to be the problem? Let’s take a look at the following facts.
The Sultanate of Yogyakarta was born as a result of political conflict in the kingdom of Mataram in the 17th century. At the time the capital of Mataram was in Surakarta, central Java. The ruling king Paku Buwono was not fully independent. He was highly influenced by the Dutch East Indies Company that dominated and exploited the kingdom. Prince Mangkubumi, the crown prince of Mataram, was not content with the situation. He wanted Mataram to be free from colonial domination. So he became a threat to colonial ruler. Then the Dutch East Indies Company tried to eliminate him from Mataram. That’s why the prince and his followers rebelled. A long armed conflict between King Paku Buwono who was backed by the Dutch Indies company on one side versus Prince Mangkubumi on the other side took many lives. After many years of fighting a peace settlement was reached in 1755. An agreement was signed in the village of Giyanti that divided the kingdom of Mataram into two kingdoms. King Paku Buwono remained the ruler of Surakarta meanwhile prince Mangkubumi became the ruler of Yogyakarta. He became Sultan Hamengku Buwono I.
When the British army occupied Indonesia in the 19th century the Sultanate of Yogyakarta was attacked in 1855. Sultan Hamengku Buwono II was exiled in Sri Langka and the kingdom was once again divided into two. Prince Noto Kusumo from the Sultanate became Paku Alam. He ruled over a part of the Sultanate that since then on was called Paku Alaman.
In the first half of the 20th century an upheaval of freedom movement in Indonesia got a golden opportunity when the Japanese military was defeated in the World War II. Sukarno and Hatta proclaimed Indonesian independence on August 17, 1945 when there was a vacuum of power following the defeat of Japanese armed forces to allied powers. Sukarno became the first president of Indonesia and Hatta became the first vice president. Soon they got popular support from almost all Indonesian since they had prepared the movement long before the proclamation. The local rulers, the nationalist and the Muslim organizations were behind them. Only the communist party was reluctant to support them. Sultan Hamengku Buwono IX was no exception. On September 1945 he made a statement that the sultanate of Yogyakarta fully support and become a part of the Republic of Indonesia. He further stated that Yogyakarta would become a special province. The executive power in Yogyakarta was in the hands of Sultan Hamengku Buwono IX and Prince Paku Alam VIII as the governor and vice governor. Since then on leadership of the province is always in the hands of Sultan Hamengku Buwono and Prince Paku Alam. The office of governor is inseparable with the traditional leadership. Today the governor is Sultan Hamengku Buwono X and the vice governor is Prince Paku Alam X.
The root of political problem
The Reform movement that began in 1998 changed everything. The movement was directed toward despotic ruler of Suharto. His absolute power was a perfect breeding ground for corruption, collusion and nepotism. The intellectuals, students, political activists organized a rally protest. Finally following bloody incidents in Jakarta in May 1998 Suharto resigned after thirty two years in power. The following year Indonesia successfully held a democratic general election. After that the next democratic elections were held again in 2004 and 2009, and 2014.
The idea of democracy is widely supported by the Indonesian people from all levels. Consequently the wind of democracy also sweeps Yogyakarta. The SBY (administration) government proposed a new law on the local government of Yogyakarta. The law stated that the governor of Yogyakarta must be elected by the people and it is not hereditary anymore. On one occasion the president stated publicly that the local leadership must change. Surprisingly the people of Yogyakarta refused the law. They do not want any local election for a governor. They organize rally protest and some people even threatened to separate from Indonesia.
The social condition in Yogyakarta is really unique. It is one of the best places to study in Indonesia. Gadjah Mada University is the best University in Indonesia where Amin Rais, the prominent leader of reform movement teaches political science. Besides GMU, there are many good schools in Yogyakarta. Therefore community of students is an important element of the Yogyakarta society. Common people, however, are the majority there. They are not well educated. For them primordial bound is still very important. Traditional Javanese values are still dominant among them including the idea of monarchy. So for them kingdom is a must. Election to elect a new governor is beyond their imagination. Any violation to traditional values means a serious threat for them that will invite hostile reactions.
The weaknesses of a monarchy and the need for a professional local leader.
These people do not understand and they do not want to understand the weaknesses of monarchy and the benefit of democracy. They don’t trust central government anymore. Any efforts to tell them will surely fail. For them monarchy is the identity of Yogyakarta and it is nonnegotiable.
The neighboring kingdom in Surakarta once had two kings. When the former king Paku Buwono XII passed away the royal family split into two groups. One group wanted Prince Mangkubumi to become a new king while the other group wanted Tejawulan to succeed his father. As a matter of fact the majority supported Mangkubumi as King Paku Buwono XIII. He controlled the palace of Surakarta. But still some royal family members supported Tejawulan. For some time there were two kings there although finally Tejawulan gave up. It is clear that in any monarchy the struggle for power may come up with emergence of two kings. There is no guarantee that it will never happen in Yogyakarta. In such a situation who will become governor if it happens in Yogyakarta?
A king may pass away any time. Sometimes a king passes away when his eldest son is still very young. Let’s say he is still a student. It means that he is not capable to become a governor. If he has to work as a governor, he will not be able to do a good job. There was a precedent in the 19th century when the new king was a kid. As a consequence Prince Diponegoro became the real ruler because he was the most influential prince.
Patriarchy is another strong value in Yogyakarta. Men are considered to be better leader than women. The present Sultan has no son. So when the time has come for his daughters to become a new king then there is a conflicting traditional value. Again there is no guarantee that the conflicting values have no effect at all. Most probably people will argue and even there will be conflict.
The present sultan insisted his daughter becomes his predecessor.
In April 2015 Sultan Hamengku Buwono X made a royal decree stating that his daughter would be his successor as the next king of Yogyakarta. He said he had received a kind of god’s and ancestor’s guidance to appoint his daughter as his successor. Soon the decree got hostile reaction from the royal family. His brothers who hold high ranking positions in the palace hierarchy opposed his decree. They said it is against the custom and tradition of the Mataram dynasty handed down from generation to generation for hundreds of years.
Then on December 2015/January 2016 Sultan Hamengku Buwono X once again made a statement confirming the previous decree. He insisted that his decision is final and whoever opposed him must leave the land of Mataram. His brothers who were invited to the event refused to attend and stated that they opposed the decree.
In Javanese tradition there is no gender equality. Man is considered to be the leader of woman. Over the past four hundred years the kings of Mataram (Yogyakarta and Surakarta) has been always male. The idea of a female sultan is against the custom and tradition so it is totally unacceptable for the royal family and the public. The opposition will no doubt receive popular support. If Sultan HB X insists and so do his brothers, then there will be escalated tension. The royal family will not endorse the new female sultan and there is a possibility that they will decide someone else as a new sultan. If there are two sultans while the Indonesian law states that the sultan is the governor of Yogyakarta, then Jakarta will face a problem to decide who will become the governor. A mistake will invite more complicated problem in the special province.
The king is too old.
In any kingdom including Yogyakarta there is no limit as to the terms of a sultan or king. He may be still in power although he is very old. In this case there is no guarantee that he is still capable of working as a chief executive who have to make important decisions for his kingdom. A leader’s competency is clearly seen on the quality of his decisions. Good decisions will make his country develop rapidly while bad decisions will break his country’s potential. In certain occasions, for example in a situation when he is not sure that his predecessor will be capable to rule or in a situation when he is in doubt whether there will conflict after he leaves office, may trigger him to stay in power as long as possible.
The king is incapable, incompetent.
Javanese custom and tradition do not have any requirement for a sultan (king) except he must be the eldest son of a prameswari (favorite wife). There is no requirement as to his competency. As a result a new king or a crown prince might be someone who does not have any competency at all. The history of Mataram clearly indicated that many decisions had been made that led to deterioration of economic and political condition of the kingdom. It is hard to say that those decisions were made by a smart leader.
The king’s character is bad and erratic.
Since the only criterion to become a sultan is the eldest son of a prameswari, there is no requirement as to his character or personality trait. That’s why there is a possibility that the eldest son has a bad character. He might be an erratic man who cannot avoid using his emotions and desire to make decision. He will appoint people to important positions based on his likings. He will choose anyone he likes and he will kick anyone that he does not like. He does not care about competency. Consequently his organization will not be able to operate to its maximum ability. In this case it is very hard for him to make rational decisions. His bureaucracy will not be able to execute his decisions well. Finally the whole kingdom will get negative effect from his policies. Economy will suffer from such policies and will deteriorate. So does other sectors such as politics, education and culture. In short a sultan who has a bad character is a disaster for his kingdom and his society.
Those are extreme conditions that clearly expose the weaknesses of monarchy. Not to mention that in most absolute monarchy there is no justice. The system works for the royal family at the cost of the public. The ruler will become burden for the people.
Since there is no trust to central government anymore, it is impossible for the central government to tell the people of Yogyakarta about these weaknesses. It means that the person who tells them must come from Yogyakarta. The people of Yogyakarta need a wise man that can do the job. He must be capable to overcome wisely the delicate situation of conflict with central government. Furthermore the local leader must be able to cope with problems of economics, global crisis, tourism, etc. In short he must be a professional and wise leader. Again there is no guarantee that all the descendants of the king will become a professional leader.
All those factors mentioned above clearly indicated that Yogyakarta needs a professional local leader. He must be a king, wise, and well educated. He must have a strong leadership skill, have strong managerial skill, and a modern bright thinking of how to develop Yogyakarta.
The need for a wise national leader.
The problem is not only based on history but also on a statement by the president that the government will change the status of special province. The statement of president in public is a shock for them. It was a humiliation to their values, their tradition, their king and their pride. The president ideally should talk persuasively to them before making a public statement. The central government must prepare the mental psychological condition that supports a new idea rather than humiliating their values. Today the public view on central government is negative. They see central government as conqueror who does not understand them.
Indonesia needs a wise national leader to cope with the problem wisely. He must be able to build trust first. Then he must be able to help Yogyakarta find a solution to their leadership problem. However with the present government busy with the economic and corruption problems it is unlikely that the government will come up with a wise decision on the issue of Yogyakarta. The absence of firm and wise decision add further uncertainty to the future of Yogyakarta. Buying time does not help to solve the problem. It worsens the problem instead.
The ideal condition is when there is a professional leader in Yogyakarta who has not only traditional legitimacy but also advanced skill to overcome problems of politics, economics and social. This condition must meet with a good, professional leader in the central government. Unfortunately these two factors are very hard to find. We have only mediocre leaders in a fast changing world. Therefore uncertainty is the only certain thing.