Village Elections, Violence and Islamic Leadership in Lombok, Eastern Indonesia

Article excerpt

Over the last decade, Indonesia's process of democratization and decentralization has brought local political empowerment to many parts of Indonesia, including the island of Lombok (see Crouch 2002; Nordholt and Asnan 2003; Mietzner 2007; Schmit 2008; Holtzappel and Ramstedt 2009; Miller 2009; Buehler 2010). Located east of the islands of Java and Bali, Lombok and the island of Sumbawa together constitute the Indonesian province of Nusa Tenggara Barat (NTB). The seismic political transformation that has occurred in Indonesia since the end of authoritarianism in 1998 and the governance reforms that followed created much change on Lombok. One of the consequences has been intense competition between local political elites.

This article seeks to explore these issues of political competition, and their potential for violence, through a case study of social instability and demonstrations that affected the West Lombok village (desa) of Bok in July 2008. (2) During this time, serious allegations against a village official led to demonstrations that threatened to explode into violence. By investigating this event in detail, it is hoped that the nuanced, localized and often volatile nature of post-Soeharto Indonesian electoral politics can be illuminated.

Tensions over the spoils of decentralization create potential for conflict in Indonesia, particularly during election periods (Suryadinata 2002; Kompas, 18 February 2008; Lombok Post, 8 June 2008; Jakarta Post, 25 June 2010; Kalla 2010; International Crisis Group 2010). These elections and their outcomes have provided "lucrative opportunities" which have seen "new forces emerge and old ones resurrected" (International Crisis Group 2010). There have been incidents of violence and unrest reported during past elections in Lombok in 1999 and 2003 (Kingsley 2010, pp. 167-72) and violence connected to local elections is now an ongoing concern for political leaders and law enforcement agencies across Indonesia (Nasution 2010; 2011, pp. 18-21). This is not surprising given the continual electoral cycle across Indonesia, whereby an election takes place almost daily somewhere across the archipelago at the local, provincial or national level of government (Kalla 2010).

A rich body of literature on communal and political violence in Indonesia has emerged over the past decade or so, in the aftermath of the fall of President Soeharto (Colombijn and Lindblad 2002; Bertrand 2004; Snitwongse and Thompson 2005; Purdey 2006; Coppel 2006; Sidel 2007; Davidson 2008; Varshney 2010). The scholarship to date has dealt primarily with the rationale and consequences of violence. This article however focuses largely on conflict management or, in other words, how conflict was resolved in the Lombok village of Bok.(3) There are many different ways of considering conflict management, one of which is the process of cooperation between state officials and non-state players (such as Tuan Guru). This particular focus corresponds to conceptual frameworks developed by John Paul Lederach. His theoretical approach demands the utilization of intricate relationships between key socio-political players and institutions to foster peace building or dispute resolution (Lederach 1997, pp. 37-55). In Bok, the leadership team was based on an ad hoc partnership between state and non-state leaders, which facilitated the resolution of the social disturbances that occurred. Formal state processes are not irrelevant; however, they often do not provide an adequate response to social tensions and communal/political conflict in Indonesia. The fluid and flexible approaches highlighted in this article identify effective avenues for conflict management in Indonesia and beyond.

The Pressures of Leadership

I am tired. Very tired! I just want the demonstrations and threats to be over ...

Zaini made this comment as he slumped down on a couch next to me in July 2008 after over two weeks of rolling demonstrations in his village of Bok, West Lombok. …