Farmers, fishers and local folk a casualty in Indonesia’s embrace with vested interests

It is up to Jokowi to create the kind of legacy that he wants to leave, says New Mandala Indonesia Fellow Iqra Anugrah.

JAKARTA: I met Sugeng, a fisher and a community organiser in my research trip to Kendal District, Central Java earlier this year before the Indonesian general elections.

In my quest to find out what ordinary rural citizens think about the impact of electoral politics on their livelihood, I asked Sugeng what he thought about President Joko Widodo or Jokowi as he is known in Indonesia.

To my surprise, he complained about Jokowi’s building of highways for cars that his motorbike-riding neighbours won’t use and factories in coastal areas that might endanger fisherfolk livelihood. To him, these were misplaced priorities for Indonesia.

Sugeng wasn’t alone in complaining. I spoke to local activists in East Kalimantan, one of the provinces most affected by corporate-led environmental degradation.

They told me how mining businesses with ties to Jokowi and leading politicians backing him destroy the environment and people’s livelihood in rural areas.

Back in 2014, many rural voters and civil society actors expected that Jokowi would fight for the interests of marginalised citizens, especially those residing in rural areas, in his first term.

Yet, he disappointed many of them. Beholden to the interests of his own party elites and oligarchs supporting him, he failed to implement the much-needed reforms that his voters and civil society actors demanded.


In his campaign trails and televised debates, Jokowi repeatedly boasted about his achievement in building infrastructures in far-flung provinces and promoting rural development through schemes such as land ownership certification and high-tech farming.

But a closer look reveals that his track record in his first term is mixed at best.

Jokowi promised to implement a wide-ranging rural development reform agenda, but he soon succumbed to the pressure of vested interests benefiting from the expansion of big businesses into rural areas. He was unable to achieve substantial changes in Indonesia’s high-stakes land, rural development and maritime policies.

On land policy, Jokowi promoted the legalisation of individual land ownership as his answer to inequality in ownership of and access to land faced by many small and poor rural households.

While individual land ownership might benefit smallholders and landless peasants to some extent, it could also pave the way for the expansion of big agribusinesses and plantations in rural areas at the expense of farming families – a global phenomenon occurring in countries transitioning into market economies such as post-Soviet Russia and developing countries worldwide.

Jokowi also did little to address land conflicts when rural citizens brush up against a mighty state apparatus and corporate big wigs.

His presidency witnessed a continuation of such land conflicts, where natural resources are exploited and mined by big conglomerates, at the huge expense of the quality of life for local communities and sustainability while environmental activists and community leaders fighting for land rights are persecuted and criminalised –  a persistent scourge which has plagued Indonesian politics for decades.

His other rural development policies, particularly infrastructural development and the provision of a state budget for village governments across the country, while well-intentioned, are also prone to misuse and corruption by local elites, which may inadvertently exacerbate rural inequality and poverty.

Jokowi scored a little better in the area of maritime development, thanks to his maverick Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Minister Susi Pudjiastuti and her cracking down on illegal fishing in Indonesian water territories.

But his administration also oversaw the expansion of big investments such as mining, land reclamation, tourism and plantations in coastal areas, making the economically precarious lives of the fishers even more challenging.

In short, Jokowi had largely failed to live up to his promises in his first term.

What made Jokowi unable to implement much-needed reforms that many marginalised rural citizens and activists have been pushing for? To answer this question, one only needs to look at the political coalitions surrounding Jokowi.


Since the very beginning, Jokowi was held captive by the more senior politicians in his party – he might be the president, but he still had to secure their political support. Furthermore, a number of his advisors, such as Luhut Pandjaitan and Hary Tanoesoedibjo had owned big mining businesses that financed Jokowi’s campaign.

It is clear Jokowi is beholden to these political elites whose support is crucial for the stability of his administration, giving him little political space or muscle to address pressing social and environmental issues.

This does not mean that his contender in the 2019 presidential election, Prabowo Subianto, offered a better policy proposal. Prabowo had claimed he wanted to promote a variety of renewable energies, but his team did not specify how such a policy could be implemented.

Moreover, both Prabowo and his vice-presidential candidate Sandiaga Uno also have extensive ties to extractive industries and own several mining businesses, not to mention Prabowo’s questionable commitment to inclusivity and proclivity to resort to identity politics, making his populist rhetoric meaningless.


Entering his second term, the issue of environmental and natural resource governance will continue to present many challenges to Jokowi.

Out of these many problems, three issues are most pressing: Indonesia’s continuing dependence on the extractive industry, the declining quality of rural livelihood, and the need to promote an alternative vision of rural development.

First, Indonesia’s long-time dependency on extractive industry such as mining, oil palm plantation, and timber has created ample corruption opportunities for business and political actors.

This dependency is a legacy of developmental policies from the Suharto’s New Order era, which facilitates collusive relationships between economic and political elites at the expense of marginalised citizens.

A typical pattern of this quid-pro-quo exchange can be seen in local electoral politics: Mining companies will help financing aspiring district head candidates, who in exchange will more liberally issue licenses for their campaign financiers.

This practice perpetuates the dominance of natural resource-extracting businesses in Indonesia’s local economies and stymies the development of a more vibrant and diverse rural economy.

It perverts local politics because local and national politicians benefiting from such businesses can wave away criticisms directed at them by activists and the local community or apply coercive measures.

Second, Indonesia’s current mode of development contributes to the rise of rural inequality and poverty.

The expansion of large-scale plantation, infrastructural development, and other forms of investments to rural areas has led to the accelerating rate of land conflicts, which in turn impoverishes local community and worsens the quality of rural livelihood.

Given all of this, promoting an alternative rural development scheme is necessary to protect the environment and promote a more sustainable livelihood for many in Indonesia.

Jokowi’s administration has since announced that they would make an existing moratorium on new forest clearance permanent.

But more can be done to manage the balance between large-scale plantations and smallholders, for instance, through the extension of the existing temporary moratorium on issuing permits for new palm oil plantation developments which ends in 2021.

Furthermore, local examples of how communities invent and implement community-based economic practices are numerous, including community-run enterprises, cooperatives, and credit unions in numerous fishing and farming villages.

Instead of relying on large-scale corporate expansion, perhaps Jokowi can learn a thing or two about alternative and sustainable development from these practices.

For Jokowi, the ball is now in his court. It is up to him to create the kind of legacy that he wants to leave – as a half-hearted reformer who capitulates to vested interests or a risk-taker who dares to challenge them.

Iqra Anugrah is a New Mandala Indonesia Fellow and an incoming Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University.

Melihat Politik dari Perspektif Rakyat Desa

Melihat Politik dari Perspektif Rakyat Desa

Awal tahun saya diawali dengan sejumlah perjalanan yang menantang, namun juga mencerahkan. Saya memulai tahun 2019 dengan agenda penelitian lapangan mengenai politik sumber daya alam dan lingkungan – ini berarti keluar masuk kampung, blusukan, dan belajar langsung kepada para warga desa terutama mengenai pengalaman hidup mereka.

Alhasil, hampir setiap bulan saya selalu melakukan perjalanan ke luar Jakarta untuk pergi ke berbagai daerah di Indonesia, untuk sejenak melepaskan bias-bias urban dan kelas menengah saya dan berbincang dengan teman-teman petani, nelayan, dan perempuan desa di berbagai kampung.

Hasil blusukan ini membukakan mata saya akan banyak hal. Salah satunya, dan yang paling utama, adalah bagaimana rakyat desa melihat politik. Berbicara soal politik, apalagi politik di Indonesia, memang gampang-gampang ruwet. Narasi yang dominan membahasakan politik melulu soal prosedur elektoral, pembangunan, dan acap kali soal konflik antar elit.

Politik sesekali hingar bingar – lihat saja drama politik Indonesia dalam lima tahun terakhir ini – tetapi sebagian besarnya adalah business as usual: tentang sekelompok kecil elit dan oligark yang saling berbagi dan melanggengkan kekuasaan yang memanfaatkan polarisasi di antara para warga negara, yang prosedurnya dinormalisasi oleh aparatus-aparatus pembangunan.

Kawan-kawan saya di lapangan punya istilah yang asyik untuk menggambarkan kondisi tersebut: yang di bawah masih bacok-bacokan, yang di atas sudah makan-makan. Tetapi, bagi banyak warga desa yang saya temui, politik adalah sesuatu yang sangat riil dan lebih kaya dari segedar dramanya para elit.

Bagi para nelayan di Desa Sei Nagalawan di Serdang Bedagai, Sumatera Utara sana, politik adalah soal bagaimana mempertahankan hak melaut mereka dari para pengusaha kapal trawl besar yang mengeksploitasi sumber daya laut masyarakat lokal. Bagi para warga di Gojoyo, sebuah desa pesisir di Demak, Jawa Tengah, politik adalah soal bagaimana warga dan pemerintah mengusahakan hak atas pembangunan jalan dan penyediaan sarana publik yang layak bagi daerah-daerah terpencil.

Bagi para petani di Desa Santan Tengah di Kutai Kartanegara, Kalimantan Timur, politik adalah soal bagaimana petani mempertahankan hak mereka atas sumber mata air dan ikan dari sungai mereka dari limbah korporasi tambang dan merayakan tradisi dan memori tentang desa yang asri.

Cerita-cerita inilah yang jarang terungkap dan hampir tidak pernah terangkat baik oleh media arus utama maupun diskursus politik dominan. Nyatanya, proses-proses politik dan pembangunan yang ada selama ini cenderung meminggirkan suara dan aspirasi dari lapisan masyarakat desa yang paling terpinggirkan dan tereksploitasi.

Politik elektoral yang kita rayakan hari ini, yang dianggap sebagai obat bagi seribu penyakit, nyatanya turut berkontribusi bagi letupan konflik dan perusakan sosio-ekologis yang kita hadapi hari ini. Ini karena arsitektur politik yang kita miliki hari ini justru memfasilitasi ekspansi kapital ke daerah pedesaan alih-alih melakukan kontrol terhadapnya.

Pengerdilan demokrasi sebagai prosedur elektoral-teknokratis semata, kampanye berbiaya tinggi yang bergantung kepada donasi korporasi dan oligarki, dan pembatasan atas ruang-ruang ekspresi bagi kedaulatan rakyat adalah sejumlah contoh cara yang dilakukan oleh rezim “demokratis” hari ini untuk melanggengkan kuasa kapital dan membungkam perlawanan rakyat desa terhadapnya.

Dengan kata lain, segala pembicaraan mengenai persoalan kerusakan lingkungan dan berkurangnya kualitas hidup di daerah pedesaan harus mengangkat persoalan kualitas demokrasi kita di tingkat lokal dan dampak kapitalisme kepada penghidupan dan lingkungan pedesaan.

Menyaksikan perusakan ruang hidup pedesaan yang terjadi secara massif akhir-akhir ini tentu membuat kita marah dan kecewa. Tetapi kita tidak perlu patah semangat, karena di setiap kekalahan selalu ada ruang-ruang untuk melakukan perlawanan menuju potensi kemenangan.

Lantas, bagaimana caranya memperluas ruang-ruang perlawanan itu? Kita bisa memulainya dengan menggali pengalaman dari rakyat desa itu sendiri. Gerak sejarah, menurut sejarawan kritis Inggris E. P. Thompson, bukan hanya didominasi oleh narasi elit, tetapi juga didorong oleh tradisi dan perlawanan dari rakyat pekerja itu sendiri. Karenanya, kita bisa memperluas ruang perlawanan dengan belajar dari berbagai catatan dan upaya perlawanan warga desa di ranah politik, ekonomi, dan kebudayaan dalam mempertahankan hak-hak sosio-ekologisnya.

Dari situ, akan terlihat bahwa sejarah tidaklah melulu suram dan berisi gugusan kekalahan. Sejarah juga diisi oleh kegembiraan dalam melakukan perlawanan dan kemenangan-kemenangan kecil yang patut dirayakan dan dijadikan acuan. Perjuangan berbagai serikat-serikat rakyat di seluruh nusantara, perlawanan berbagai komunitas di belahan Indonesia Timur, dan segenap kemenangan-kemenangan kecil yang diraih melalui upaya-upaya tersebut juga patut untuk dipelajari strateginya dan diterapkan dalam aksi-aksi selanjutnya demi mencapai kemenangan yang lebih besar.

Konkritnya, ini berarti mempelajari aspek-aspek apa yang memungkinkan hak atas tanah dan pengelolaan hutan dimenangkan setelah aksi-aksi pendudukan lahan dilakukan, mengemulasi strategi gerakan sosial di beberapa wilayah konflik agraria yang berhasil memenangkan kader-kader terbaik mereka sebagai kepala desa progresif di masing-masing daerahnya, mencontoh praktik-praktik terbaik dari ekonomi kerakyatan, ekonomi solidaritas yang berbasiskan pengelolaan kolektif, entah itu berbentuk ekowisata, koperasi produksi, pertanian alami, hingga credit union, hingga menerapkan usulan-usulan kebijakan yang inovatif, partisipatoris, dan ramah lingkungan, seperti memberi komunitas yang paling terdampak atas investasi skala besar di industri ekstraktif hak veto atas ekspansi korporasi di komunitas mereka.

Apakah cerita-cerita dan usulan-usulan tersebut terdengar asing? Wajar saja, karena tatanan ekonomi-politik hari ini tidak memberi tempat bagi imajinasi politik yang berbeda, tentang cita-cita mengenai dunia yang lain dan lebih baik. Tetapi, dunia yang lebih baik, dimana keadilan sosial dan ekologis tercapai, adalah mungkin. Dan untuk mencpai cita-cita tersebut, kita harus bersedia mengubah cara pandang kita, termasuk cara pandang tentang dinamika politik hari ini.

Melihat politik dari perspektif warga desa, dengan demikian, adalah langkah awal yang harus ditempuh untuk mencapai cita-cita itu.

Peneliti sosial dan Correspondent Fellow untuk New Mandala, Editor IndoProgress.

Melawan Tambang dari Kursi Parlemen, Seberapa Efektif?

Diterbitkan (beserta tautan referensi) di

Tak berbeda dengan beragam bisnis lain yang mengeksploitasi sumber daya alam, perusahaan tambang dan penyokongnya punya pengaruh besar di politik Indonesia pasca-Orde Baru. Pengaruh mereka tampak jelas dan mengakar di pusaran politik lokal, terutama berkat peran besar mereka dalam membiayai kampanye politik kandidat-kandidat yang bertarung di daerah kaya sumber daya alam.

Sebagai salah satu daerah yang kaya sumber daya alam, Kalimantan Timur merupakan pusat berbagai jenis industri ekstraktif, termasuk pertambangan batubara. Maka tak heran Kalimantan Timur lantas menjadi salah satu medan pertempuran sengit untuk kontestasi politik lokal yang dipengaruhi oleh industri pertambangan.

Kolusi yang terbentuk dari kepentingan pengusaha bisnis ekstraktif dan elit lokal telah mengorbankan warga desa di Kalimantan. Di Kalimantan Tengah, elit politik lokal memperkaya diri melalui transaksi jual-beli tanah yang korup dan ekspansi perkebunan kelapa sawit, mendominasi politik dan membungkam mereka yang mengkritik. Di Kalimantan Timur, ekspansi industri pertambangan batu bara berdampak buruk terhadap kehidupan warga pedesaan dan membuka ladang subur bagi praktik korupsi.

Namun, dalam kampanye Pemilu 2019 di Kalimantan Timur, saya bertemu Baharuddin Demmu (Bahar), anggota DPRD Provinsi dari Partai Amanat Nasional (PAN). Bahar adalah contoh langka seorang aktivis yang bertranformasi menjadi politikus yang tak henti mengkritik kepentingan industri ekstraktif dan elit lokal di belakang mereka, bahkan setelah ia bergabung dengan parlemen lokal. Selama satu minggu, saya mengikuti Bahar, sejumlah aktivis dan warga lokal dalam kegiatan kampanye Pileg 2019. Saya berusaha memahami pengaruh industri pertambangan terhadap pemilu dan politik di Kalimantan Timur serta tantangan yang dihadapi Bahar, mantan aktivis yang kini menjadi politikus dan mengusung visi-misi keberlanjutan lingkungan.

Kisah Bahar penting karena memberi tahu kita bahwa ada politikus Indonesia yang memang peduli dengan pemilih mereka. Namun, pertarungan melawan kepentingan oligarkis yang ditopang industri pertambangan, dan berjuang untuk kelestarian lingkungan dan ruang hidup warga desa, jelas membutuhkan upaya dan dorongan yang lebih keras dari elemen-elemen masyarakat sipil dan warga desa yang tertindas—kerja politik yang mustahil dilakukan oleh satu orang.

Kemunculan Politikus Langka

Bahar punya pengalaman langsung terkait kerusakan yang diakibatkan industri ekstraktif terhadap lingkungan dan penghidupan warga desa. Di masa kanak-kanak, Chevron, perusahaan minyak dan gas multinasional, mengusir keluarga Bahar (yang waktu itu masih kecil) dari rumah dan pertanian mereka dengan bantuan pasukan militer setempat pada tahun 1986. Pengalaman pahit tersebut mendorongnya terlibat aktif dalam aktivisme. Bahar kemudian bergabung dengan Jaringan Advokasi Tambang (JATAM) Kalimantan Timur—sebuah organisasi masyakarat sipil pemantau industri pertambangan, dan memimpin organisasi tersebut sebagai koordinator dari tahun 2002-2004.

Terinspirasi oleh pengalamannya menjabat sebagai kepala desa dari 2006 hingga 2009, Bahar kemudian memutuskan untuk terjun dalam politik elektoral. Ia kemudian berhasil memenangkan kursi DPRD untuk kabupaten Kutai Kartanegara pada 2009. Di parlemen, Bahar menjadi lawan bagi banyak politikus yang diuntungkan oleh industri pertambangan karena terus menyuarakan menyuarakan perlawanan terhadap praktik korporasi yang merugikan warga. Setelah memenangkan kursi DPRD, ia tetap berkomitmen untuk menentang pertambangan batubara yang telah melampaui batas.

Keberhasilan Bahar terjun ke dunia politik menunjukkan bagaimana seorang politikus dengan latar belakang aktivis berusaha membuat perubahan di tingkat lokal. Namun, ia sendiri masih menghadapi tantangan berat dalam memerangi perusahaan industri ekstraktif besar dari dalam sistem.

Bagaimana Pertambangan Mempengaruhi Politik Kalimantan Timur

John Sidel berpendapat bahwa kualitas demokrasi lokal terancam di daerah-daerah di mana “kontrol atas sumber-sumber utama” dalam perekonomian lokal dikuasasi oleh beberapa pemain besar. Argumen ini berlaku pula di Kalimantan Timur, di mana sektor ekstraktif mendominasi ekonomi lokal. Akses finansial dari industri pertambangan mendorong para politikus tak tanggung-tanggung menghabiskan uang untuk mengalahkan kandidat lain dalam kampanye pemilu sehingga kandidat yang minim modal sulit untuk menembus dinding politik lokal.

Mengingat mahalnya biaya kampanye pemilu di Indonesia, para kandidat yang tidak memiliki ikatan yang kuat dengan pemilih, sulit menghindari tawaran modal kampanye dari pendonor. Menurut studi Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (KPK) pada 2018, banyak kandidat yang bersaing dalam pemilihan kepala daerah 2015, membutuhkan sumber eksternal untuk mendanai kampanye mereka. Modal yang dibutuhkan untuk memenangkan kursi walikota atau bupati diperkirakan sekitar Rp20-30 milyar, sementara untuk kursi gubernur, kandidat perlu menyiapkan dana kampanye hingga Rp100 milyar. Penelitian lebih lanjut oleh JATAM menunjukkan bahwa para kandidat sering membuat ijon politik dengan perusahaan tambang demi memenangkan pemilihan lokal. Perusahaan-perusahaan akan mendanai kampanye, dan sebagai gantinya mereka akan menerima izin penambangan jika para kandidat yang disokong menang. Setelah Pilkada 2010, misalnya, jumlah konsesi tambang meningkat secara signifikan (PDF) di berbagai kabupaten yang kaya sumber daya, termasuk kabupaten Kutai Kartanegara di Kalimantan Timur. Tren ini berlanjut hingga Pilkada 2018. JATAM dan sejumlah organisasi lain memperkirakan bahwa jumlah izin penambangan yang dikeluarkan di seluruh Indonesia meledak dari 750 izin pada 2001 menjadi 10.000 pada 2010.

Dalam arena politik yang begitu mahal, sulit bagi seseorang seperti Bahar untuk memenangkan pemilihan. Namun, aktivisme dan kedekatannya dengan konteks pedesaan menjadi aset politik yang sangat berharga. Aktivis dan anggota masyarakat yang saya ajak bicara untuk mengamini penilaian ini: menurut mereka, Bahar memiliki hubungan yang erat dengan pemilih sehingga dia tidak benar-benar membutuhkan uang.

Namun, sebagai petahana, Bahar juga merawat kesetiaan para pemilihnya dengan memfasilitasi mereka untuk mengakses sumber daya dan fasilitas negara. “Jika petani lokal dan nelayan belum memiliki kelompok, maka saya akan membantu,” katanya. Bahar dan teman bicara saya mengklaim bahwa dengan menggunakan taktik seperti ini Bahar tidak harus membeli suara.

Bahar dan para pendukungnya cukup optimis akan terpilih kembali untuk masa jabatan kedua di DPRD tingkat provinsi. Dia dan rekan-rekan aktivisnya menyadari bahwa oligarki, termasuk di partainya, terus mendominasi politik elektoral di Indonesia.

Ini misi yang amat berat. Bahar bercerita tentang pengalamannya menerima “saran” dari beberapa orang untuk meredam kritiknya terhadap industri pertambangan batubara. “Saya menerima telepon [dari orang tak dikenal] yang menasihati saya agar berhenti mengkritik pertambangan… ketika saya berada di Jakarta, beberapa orang juga datang kepada saya dan mengatakan untuk menghentikan penyelidikan [penambangan ilegal] di DPRD provinsi,” katanya kepada saya. “Tapi, saya tetap jalan terus,” tambahnya.

Tantangan paling besar terletak pada kenyataan bahwa oligarki di tingkat nasional pun memiliki kepentingan dalam menjaga dan memperluas bisnis pertambangan batubara di Kalimantan Timur. Investigasi terbaru dari organisasi pemantau lingkungan Global Witness mengungkapkan beberapa elite nasional seperti Luhut Pandjaitan, mantan penasihat umum dan orang dekat di lingkaran Jokowi dan Sandiaga Uno, kandidat wakil presiden Prabowo Subianto, memiliki saham dan mendapat untung yang signifikan dari bisnis pertambangan batubara di Kalimantan Timur.

Seberapa Besar Perubahan yang Bisa Dimenangkan Melalui Pemilu?

Namun di luar faktor pengaruh industri tambang, Bahar pun belum bebas dari praktik umum dalam politik Indonesia yakni membangun jaringan patronase. Walaupun Bahar tidak terlibat jual-beli suara atau membagikan “hadiah” dan “bantuan” kepada sekelompok pemilih, tetapi pola ketergantungan antara Bahar dan pemilihnya masih tak terelakkan. Meskipun upaya Bahar untuk memfasilitasi akses ke sumber daya negara tentu membantu pemilihnya sampai titik tertentu, praktik tersebut menutup kemungkinan hubungan yang lebih setara antara pemilih dan politikus.

Poin penting lain ialah komunitas pedesaan yang terpinggirkan dan aktor masyarakat sipil di Kalimantan Timur sesungguhnya tidak terjebak dalam ilusi bahwa memilih seorang anggota parlemen yang mewakili kepentingan mereka akan menyelesaikan berbagai masalah yang disebabkan oleh penambangan batubara dan industri ekstraktif lainnya. Contoh-contoh sejarah telah menunjukkan bahwa aksi-aksi yang digerakkan kelas bawah dan masyarakat sipil lah yang memungkinkan transformasi politik besar seperti demokratisasi. Ini juga berlaku pada skala lokal, termasuk di Kalimantan Timur: tanpa tekanan massa yang konsisten, akan sulit memastikan berbagai masalah yang ditimbulkan oleh industri ekstraktif untuk didengar dalam politik lokal dan nasional.

Saya bertanya tentang strategi Bahar untuk memasuki arena politik elektoral kepada Merah Johansyah Ismail (Merah), koordinator nasional JATAM, yang mengatakan, “Kadang-kadang dia mengulang wacana (dominan) bahwa bekerja dalam sistem harus menjadi strategi utama. Tapi kita tetap menghormatinya dan saling menjaga komunikasi. ”

Saya bertanya kepada Merah apa yang harus menjadi strategi utama untuk mengadvokasi hak-hak masyarakat yang terkena dampak industri pertambangan. Dia menjawab, “Kita tidak punya pilihan lain selain memperkuat dan mengandalkan aksi massa.” Penilaian Merah saya pikir cukup akurat: gerakan sosial utama di abad ke-20 seperti gerakan buruh dan gerakan hak-hak sipil mampu memaksa elit untuk membuat beberapa konsesi kebijakan melalui aksi massa seperti protes.

Saya tidak mengatakan bahwa partisipasi dalam pemilu tidak penting. Namun, kita perlu memahami sifat dan keterbatasan politik elektoral di daerah-daerah seperti Kalimantan Timur, di mana para elite dapat dengan mudah menyingkirkan persaingan dalam pemilu demi kepentingan mereka. Sebagaimana dikatakan Benedict Anderson sejak lama, pemilu di Asia Tenggara termasuk di Indonesia sesungguhnya adalah tanda dari “dominasi politik borjuis”—sebuah penilaian yang saya pikir tetap berlaku hingga hari ini.

Dengan kata lain, strategi dua level yang lebih terpadu, yang melibatkan kader gerakan sosial yang terjun ke politik formal yang dipadukan dengan aksi massa kolektif dari bawah, diperlukan untuk meningkatkan kualitas demokrasi secara substansial di Kalimantan Timur. Bahar bukanlah Tony Benn (politikus militan Partai Buruh Inggris yang berkomitmen untuk dan juga berpartisipasi dalam mobilisasi kelas bawah saat ia menjabat). Tapi Bahar bisa belajar dari pengalamannya sendiri. Beberapa pemilih Bahar adalah orang-orang yang bergabung dengannya dalam demonstrasi besar melawan ketidakpedulian industri minyak dan gas terhadap ruang hidup warga di ketika dia masih menjadi aktivis. Para demonstran ini adalah orang-orang yang membuka lebar ruang demokrasi lokal sehingga memungkinkan Bahar memenangkan kursi sebagai anggota parlemen.

Namun demikian, rekam jejak Bahar yang tidak biasa menunjukkan kemungkinan untuk demokrasi lokal yang lebih bermakna di Indonesia, di luar populisme iliberal. Sayangnya, contoh seperti Bahar masih sedikit. Dalam arti tertentu, kemunculan Bahar adalah pengecualian yang membuktikan norma lama: bahwa oligarki dan pendukung lokal mereka masih mendominasi politik pemilu lokal Indonesia.

Penulis ingin mengucapkan terima kasih kepada Baharuddin Demmu, JATAM, dan narasumber lokal saya di Kalimantan Timur atas bantuan mereka dalam membantu kerja lapangan saya. 

— Sebelum diterjemahkan oleh Levriana Yustriani, tulisan ini terbit dalam bahasa Inggris di New Mandala dengan judul “Standing for parliament, and against mining in Kalimantan”. Penulisnya, Iqra Anugrah, adalah research associate pada Lembaga Penelitian, Pendidikan dan Penerangan Ekonomi dan Sosial (LP3ES) di Jakarta Pusat. Selama Pemilu 2019, ia menjadi New Mandala Indonesia Correspondent Fellow yang menulis isu lingkungan dan sumber daya alam.

*) Opini kolumnis ini adalah tanggungjawab penulis seperti tertera, tidak menjadi bagian tanggungjawab redaksi

Standing for parliament, and against mining in Kalimantan

Standing for parliament, and against mining in Kalimantan

Like many other oligarchs and businesses exploiting natural resources, mining companies and their elite supporters have a lot of political clout in post-authoritarian Indonesia. This can be seen in the way mining companies have entrenched their influence in local politics, thanks to the significant role they play in financing aspiring candidates in recourse-rich regions.

One of these resource-rich regions, East Kalimantan province, is a major centre of various extractive industries, ranging from oil and gas, timber logging, and more recently coal mining and oil palm. Consequently, it has also become one of the major battlegrounds for mining industry-influenced political contestation. In East Kalimantan alone, there are 1,404 mining licenses registered by the provincial government. Leading local politicians, such as Said Amin, and the notoriously corrupt former district head (bupati) of Kutai Kartanegara, Rita Widyasari, either own or receive kickbacks from mining operations. It’s not surprising that there is a lack of responsiveness from the local government regarding the destructive socio-ecological impacts of mining, including in the gubernatorial election last year.

Extractive business interests and local elites have formed collusive relationships at the expense of rural citizens in Kalimantan provinces. In the neighbouring Central Kalimantan province, the expansion of corrupt land dealsand oil palm plantation has seen local political elites enrich themselves, dominate local politics, and suppress dissenting voices who express concern over the destructive socio-ecological impacts of natural resource exploitation. In East Kalimantan, the development of the coal mining industry has brought devastating impacts for rural livelihoods and bred corruption. Such a practices are representative of broader patterns of how oligarchic competition for political offices, and the collusive relationships with business that are prevalent among local elites, influences the trajectory of post-authoritarian local politics.

But in the 2019 election campaign, some Indonesian politicians in Kalimantan are trying to speak out against the excesses of the extractive industries there. In Samarinda, East Kalimantan, Baharuddin Demmu (Bahar), a National Mandate Party (PAN) member of the provincial parliament, is a rare example of an activist-turned-politician who continues to criticise extractive business interests and their local elite allies even after joining the local parliament. I spent a week observing Bahar and a number of activists and community members in the 2019 legislative election campaign to try to understand how mining influences electoral politics in East Kalimantan, and the challenges an activist-turned-politician faces in campaigning on a platform of environmental sustainability.

Checking the excesses of coal mining industry in the provincial parliament remains hugely difficult, reflecting the continuing dominance of local predatory interests that benefit from the industry, and the limited influence that rural citizens and their civil society allies have in defending the sustainability of rural livelihoods. In this context, Bahar’s story is important because it shows how a politician in a resource-rich province is trying to advocate for the rights of communities that have been affected by large resource extractive industries, and rural constituencies more generally. It tells us that there are Indonesian politicians who do care about their voters. But challenging mining-fuelled oligarchic interests, and promoting environmental sustainability and rural livelihoods, requires a much more extensive effort by rural lower-classes and their civil society allies— work that cannot rely on one politician alone.

The rise of an unlikely politician

Bahar had a first-hand experience of how extractive industries damage the environment and rural livelihoods. During his childhood, Chevron, a multinational oil and gas company, evicted his family from their house and farm with the help of local military forces back in 1986. This experience influenced him to get involved in community activism during his college days. He then joined the East Kalimantan branch of the Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM), a mining watchdog organisation, and led the organisation as its coordinator from 2002 to 2004.

Inspired by his experience serving as an elected village head from 2006 to 2009, Bahar decided to run for a seat as an MP. In his first attempt, he won a seat in the district parliament of Kutai Kartanegara in 2009. In the parliament, he continued to voice his bold opposition against unethical corporate practices by the mining industry, a move that upset many other politicians who benefitted from coal mining. After winning a seat in the provincial parliament, he remained committed to voice his opposition to the excesses of coal mining, where he was a strident critic of the mining industry’s social and environmental failings.

Bahar’s successful foray into politics shows how a politician with an activist background can try to make a difference at the local level. However, just getting there isn’t enough: Bahar, like so many activists-turned-politicians, still faces significant challenges in fighting big extractive industry companies from within the system.

How mining influences politics in East Kalimantan

John Sidel has argued that quality of local democracy is suppressed in areas where “control over the commanding heights” of the local economy are dominated by few powerful players. This is true in East Kalimantan, where the extractive sector dominates the local economy. Access to mining money encourages politicians to outspend each other in election campaigns, and the resulting increase in the cost of campaign financing makes it more difficult for cash-strapped candidates to make inroads into local politics.

Given the high cost of election campaigning in Indonesia, political hopefuls with weak ties to voters have no choice but to rely on campaign financing from supportive donors. According to a  2018 study from the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), many candidates competing in the 2015 executive head elections (known as Pilkada) needed external sources for campaign financing. The study also found that around 43% of the candidates who lost their elections spent around Rp1–5 billion (A$100,000–500,000) on their campaign. Those who won their elections, meanwhile, needed around Rp20–30 billion (A$2–3 million) to win a mayor or district head post, and up to Rp100 billion (A$10 million) to secure a gubernatorial seat.

Further research by JATAM has shown that candidates often strike shady deals with mining companies to win local elections in resource areas. The companies will fund their campaign and in exchange receive mining licences once the candidates of their choice win the elections. For instance, after the 2010 pilkada, the number of mining licences increased significantly in various resource-rich districts, including Kutai Kartanegara district. This trend continued until very recently, in the 2018 executive head elections. In total, JATAM and a number of other civil society organisations estimate that the number of mining licenses issued across Indonesia exploded from 750 licenses in 2001 to 10,000 in 2010.

In such a high-cost political arena, it is difficult for someone like Bahar to win election. However, he has attempted to compensate for his lack of campaign funds with his strong ties to local communities. His activism and familiarity with the rural context have become his strongest political assets. Activists and community members that I talked to confirm this assessment: according to them, to win a seat in East Kalimantan, one has to have either a strong connection with the voters or a huge amount of money to buy votes. Bahar has the former, so he does not really need the latter. Bahar claims that he only needed to spend Rp20–30 million (A$2,000–3,000) for his campaign to secure a seat in the district parliament and Rp100-200 million (A$10,000–$20,000) for his campaign for a seat in the provincial parliament. If true, these figures are significantly lower than the figures a successful politician is usually required to spend.

As an incumbent, though, Bahar also maintains the loyalty of his constituencies by facilitating their access to state resources and facilities. “If local peasants and fishers do not have their groups yet, then I will help them out (to make one),” he said. Bahar’s colleague, Syarifuddin, another politician from PAN, told me, “it is important for our constituencies to have their own peasants’ and fishers’ groups, otherwise it will be difficult for them to submit proposals for facilities and the like,” he added. Bahar and my interlocutors claimed that by using tactics like this Bahar does not have to buy votes.

Bahar and his supporters are quite optimistic that he will win the re-election for his second term in the provincial parliament. But the more crucial question is what he will do to fight against mining-fuelled oligarchic interests in East Kalimantan and for the betterment of his constituency. Bahar and his activist colleagues are well aware that oligarchs continue to dominate the electoral arena in Indonesia. As Merah explained it to me, “he needs to fight oligarchic interests not only from outside but also from inside (his party).”

This is a herculean task. Bahar told me about his experience of receiving “advice” from several people to tone down his criticisms of the coal mining industry. “I received phone calls [from an unknown person] advising me to stop criticising mining…when I was in Jakarta a few people also came to me and told me to stop the investigation [of illegal mining] in the provincial parliament,” he told me. “Nevertheless, I carried on,” he added.

What makes it challenging is the fact that national-level oligarchs have a vested interest in keeping and expanding coal mining businesses in East Kalimantan. A new investigation by Global Witness, an environmental watchdog organisation, has revealed that figures such as Luhut Pandjaitan, a former general and close advisor to Joko Widodo, and Sandiaga Uno, Prabowo Subianto’s vice-presidential candidate, are significant beneficiaries of coal mining in East Kalimantan. Given their extensive political influence, one might question how individual activists can withstand the influence of national oligarchs in their regions.

How much change can be won through elections?

Moreover, Bahar has not been able to break free from the common practice in Indonesian politics of building patronage networks. It is true that he neither buys votes nor distributes small gifts to a group of favoured voters, but he has not been able to transform the dependent relationship between him and his voters. Recall his admission of facilitating the creation of local peasants’ and fishers’ groups to access state resources and facilities in his constituencies. While this helps the voters to some extent, it also precludes the possibility of a more independent and equal relationship between voters and politicians.

What is equally important is that marginalised rural communities and civil society actors in East Kalimantan and other resource-rich province do not fall for the illusion that electing an MP that represents their interests will solve the many problems caused by coal mining and other extractive industries for once and all. Historical examples have shown that it is the disruptive actions of lower-class and civil society movements that led to major political transformations such as democratisation. This is also true at the local scale, including in East Kalimantan: without consistent mass pressure from rural citizens and their civil society allies, it would be difficult to ensure that the many problems associated with resource extraction are heard and accommodated in local and national politics.

When asked about what he thought of Bahar’s strategy of entering electoral politics, Merah Johansyah Ismail (Merah), the national coordinator of JATAM, said, “sometimes he repeats the (dominant) discourse (that working within the system should be the main strategy). But we still respect and maintain our communication with him.” I asked Merah what the main strategy for advocating for the rights of communities affected by mining should be. He replied, “we have no choice but to promote and rely on mass actions.” Merah’s assessment is quite accurate: major social movements in the 20th century such as workers’ and civil rights movements were able to force elites to make some policy concessions through mass actions such as protests and demonstrations.

This is not to say that electoral participation does not matter. However, one needs to understand the nature and limitation of elections in places like East Kalimantan, where extractive industries and their elite supporters can easily tilt electoral competition in their favour. As Benedict Anderson warned a long time ago, elections in Southeast Asia including in Indonesia are a sign of “bourgeois political dominance,” an assessment that remains true to this day.

In other words, a more concerted two-pronged strategy—which involves activists entering electoral politics as well as the intensification of contentious collective actions from below—is needed to substantially improve the quality of democracy in East Kalimantan. Bahar is no Tony Benn (the militant Labour Party politician who remained committed to, and a participant in, lower-class mobilisation while he was in office). But he can learn from his own experience—some of Bahar’s voters are the ones who joined him in mass demonstrations against the oil and gas industry’s lack of attention to people’s livelihoods back in his activist days. These protesters are also the ones who broadened the local democratic space enough to allowed him to win a seat as an MP. Without these disruptive actions, it would be difficult for ordinary citizens to get their voice heard and make a difference in local politics, even under democratised and decentralised settings.

Nevertheless, Bahar’s unusual track record has shown how there is a possibility for a more meaningful local democracy in Indonesia beyond illiberal populismor oligarchic hegemony. Unfortunately, such an example remains few and far between. In a sense, Bahar’s rise is an exception that proves the rule: that oligarchs and their local supporters still dominate Indonesian local electoral politics.

I would like to thank Baharuddin Demmu, JATAM, and my local interlocutors in East Kalimantan for their help in facilitating my fieldwork.

Women among the fishers

If you ask the Indonesian public who has made the biggest difference for Indonesian fishers, one name will keep coming up: Susi Pudjiastuti, Indonesia’s minister of fisheries and maritime affairs. A colourful self-made entrepreneur, Susi has gained a reputation as a maverick and a bold reformer through her policies, including cracking down on illegal foreign fishing.

But the focus on Susi neglects another group who have also made a lot of difference to the lives of Indonesian fishers: women in fishing and coastal communities. In my recent visits to fishing villages in Central Java and North Sumatra, I found that women in these communities have played a crucial role in advocating for fishers’ and women’s rights. They have improved the lives of many in their communities. This achievement is particularly commendable given the government’s lack of attention to issues affecting women in fishing communities and enduring patriarchal values in Indonesian society at large.

Indeed, women’s contributions to fishing communities often go unnoticed. According to a 2015 study conducted by Kiara, a fishers’ rights advocacy group, women contribute close to half (48 per cent) of income in fishing households across Indonesia. They also work long hours – 17 hours per day, both in fishing activities and at home. This was true for the women I interviewed – they had a major role in processing and selling fish products as well as in handling domestic chores. But as Kiara head Susan Herawati notes, “women’s work is often not recognised as real work”.

Despite facing a double burden of fishing and domestic work, women in fishing communities get involved in activism and policy advocacy in a variety of ways, including building community-led organisations and enterprises and promoting women’s rights.

In Kendal, for example, I met Sulyati, a teacher from a fishing family in the village of Gempolsewu. Since 2012, she has been organising women through a village-level women-led community business unit (KBU) called Sekar Wilujeng. “It is challenging to encourage my neighbours to get involved in community organising,” Sulyati said. She is convinced that women in her village need to organise to better promote their interests and improve their community.

While Sulyati and her neighbours are still struggling, a women’s group in Serdang Bedagai district, North Sumatra, has had a degree of success in promoting economic empowerment and independence for women in coastal communities.

I spoke to Jumiati, one of the initiators of Muara Baimbai, a community organisation and cooperative in the fishing village of Sei Nagalawan. With the support of her husband and other community members, Jumiati has been promoting community-based mangrove conservation and eco-tourism and selling local fish and mangrove food products since 2004.

In the beginning, her motivation was simple. “At that time,” she said, “I thought we needed to support our movement [to improve the livelihood of the fisherfolk] with economic strategies.”

The result has been incredible: over the past few years, residents of Sei Nagalawan have been able to generate and manage a sizeable profit from their business for the benefit of the community. Further, women have played an important role in this initiative, actively participating in the organisation and managing its business.

Another women’s and fishers’ organisation in Central Java, Puspita Bahari, focuses on rights advocacy in fishing communities. Based in Demak, Puspita Bahari promotes not only livelihood development but also gender equality and awareness of civil rights among the most marginalised in coastal and fishing communities in the district.

Puspita Bahari’s founder, Masnu’ah, told me she established the organisation to fight domestic violence and improve women’s rights in her community. “We’ve been working since 2005 and continue to expand the scope of our activities, from campaigning for the rights of women and fishers to paralegal advocacy for people with disability.” For this work, Puspita Bahari has received numerous awards and recognition within and outside Indonesia.

From fighting against domestic violence to encouraging women’s participation in social life, these groups are at the forefront of promoting women’s interests in fishing and coastal communities. While their scope of activities and areas of operation are still limited, they are making real impacts for their communities and have the potential to promote meaningful local level policy change.

For instance, Puspita Bahari has been fighting for the formal recognition of Demak-based women who engage in fishing activities. Being formally recognised as fishers, like their male counterparts, will enable them to make use of a variety of state facilities and services, as stipulated by Law 7 of 2016 on Protection and Empowerment of Fishers and Salt Miners.

By doing so, they also challenge and help dismantle dominant patriarchal understandings that fail to acknowledge women’s contributions in both fishing activities and the domestic realm.

These women’s advocacy efforts are also important because Indonesia’s dominant political discourse on women, including in the recent presidential debate, tends to treat women in a superficial or tokenistic manner.

For Sulyati, Jumiati, Masnu’ah, and many other women in fishing communities across Indonesia, the fight for the rights of women and the most marginalised still has a long way to go. But the future is not entirely bleak. Through small-scale, locally targeted activities, these women have been able to make a tangible difference in their communities.

Like many other actors in the women’s movement, they are fighting the good fight for a better life for women and a more meaningful democracy for many.

Dr Iqra Anugrah would like to thank Kiara and community members of fishing villages in Kendal, Demak, and Serdang Bedagai  for their help throughout his fieldwork.

Bagaimana Nelayan Berpolitik di Tengah Pemilu?

“Saya telah berkunjung ke seribu titik lokasi, bertemu masyarakat…. Ada kisah tentang Bapak Najib, seorang nelayan Pantai Pasir Putih di Cilamaya, Karawang. Beliau mengambil pasir untuk ditanam di hutan bakau. Beliau dipersekusi, dikriminalisasi [karena itu]. ” Demikian klaim Calon Wakil Presiden Prabowo Subianto, Sandiaga Uno dalam debat pertama Pemilihan Presiden Indonesia pada 17 Februari.

Pernyataan Sandiaga dan ceritanya tentang seorang nelayan yang dikriminalisasi secara tidak adil di Karawang langsung memicu keriuhan politik.

Di luar soal benar-tidaknya cerita Sandi, hak-hak nelayan berhasil meraih perhatian publik nasional dalam sebuah forum terkemuka. Jika orang Amerika punya ‘Joe the Plumber’, perwujudan sosok wirausahawan kecil yang merugi akibat tarif pajak yang tinggi, masyarakat Indonesia sekarang memiliki ‘Najib sang Nelayan’, perwakilan dari wong cilik yang menjadi korban dari hukum yang berat sebelah.

Bagi politisi, upaya agar komunitas nelayan mendukung mereka adalah persoalan serius. Badan Pusat Statistik (BPS) memperkirakan ada hampir satu juta rumah tangga nelayan di Indonesia dan sekitar 2,3 juta nelayan di seluruh nusantara. Meski kuantitasnya terlihat kecil jika dibandingkan dengan total populasi Indonesia, tetapi kelompok ini mewakili seperlima dari total populasi masyarakat pesisir dan memiliki potensi mobilisasi yang kuat. Menjelang pemilihan umum April mendatang, kedua kubu telah berusaha menggalang dukungan dari nelayan.

Ketika menjajaki komunitas nelayan di Jawa Tengah dan Sumatera Utara selama kampanye pemilu 2019, saya menemukan persoalan hak-hak nelayan, yang seringkali dipandang sebagai isu khusus, kini telah menjadi bagian dari wacana politik arus utama. Sayangnya, agensi politik nelayan masih berorientasi pada kebutuhan konsesi jangka pendek, alih-alih pada upaya mendesak perubahan kebijakan yang menguntungkan komunitas nelayan secara keseluruhan.

Dengan karakter organisasi politik yang cenderung lokal dan bersifat ad hoc semata, kelompok nelayan adalah cermin fragmentasi yang berkelanjutan di kalangan masyarakat sipil Indonesia serta keterbatasan peluang kelompok kelas bawah untuk mempengaruhi kontestasi politik.

Hak Nelayan sebagai Masalah Politik
Dalam masa jabatan pertama Jokowi, urusan maritim dan perikanan mulai mendominasi percakapan arus utama tentang politik di Indonesia. Sebagai bagian dari ambisi pembangunan Jokowi, ia membayangkan Indonesia bisa menjadi poros maritim global, yang tak lain adalah pusat utama eksplorasi sumber daya laut dan pesisir.

Ditambah dengan kebijakan nasionalis Menteri Susi, terutama dalam menindak penangkapan ikan ilegal oleh kapal asing, persoalan maritim dan kehidupan masyarakat pesisir dan nelayan yang rentan secara ekonomi kini tidak pernah absen dari laman berita media Indonesia.

Di sisi lain, tim kampanye Prabowo-Sandi mengajukan proposal kebijakan dengan fokus yang sangat kontras dengan kubu petahana. Dalam manifesto politik Prabowo-Sandi, daftar target yang hendak dicapai tak tangung-tanggung, antara lain: mengurangi kesenjangan antara wilayah pesisir dan pedalaman, meningkatkan anggaran nasional untuk sektor perikanan dan kelautan, menyalurkan lebih banyak skema kredit kepada nelayan, menjamin harga pasar untuk komoditas yang menguntungkan baik nelayan maupun konsumen.

Masalahnya, daftar target janji kampanye yang panjang itu tak disertai paparan tentang cara untuk mewujudkannya.

Di titik ini kita bisa sepakat bahwa persoalan hak nelayan jelas mempengaruhi pemilu 2019. Namun, kebijakan maritim dan perikanan nampaknya akan sama saja, terlepas dari siapa yang berkuasa. Larangan Menteri Susi yang kontroversial tentang penangkapan ikan dengan pukat, misalnya. Sementara para nelayan di pulau-pulau terluar Indonesia menyambut hangat larangan itu, para operator kapal pukat yang berbasis di Jawa mengkritiknya habis-habisan. Akhirnya, Susi menyerah dengan tekanan publik dan mengeluarkan moratorium penundaan larangan tersebut di wilayah Jawa.

Sandiaga Uno turut mengambil kesempatan dalam isu ini. Walaupun belum mengambil sikap yang jelas mengenai kontroversi tersebut, Sandi berjanji untuk mencari solusi tengah yang menguntungkan semua pihak.

Bagaimana Nelayan Terlibat dalam Politik?
Dari kunjungan ke Kendal dan Demak di Jawa Tengah dan Serdang Bedagai di Sumatera Utara, saya menemukan beberapa cara nelayan berpolitik, antara lain menjadi makelar yang menawarkan patronase, beraliansi dengan kandidat lokal yang kooperatif, atau mencalonkan diri dalam pemilihan lokal.

Sebuah cerita dari desa Gempolsewu di kabupaten Kendal, Jawa Tengah, menggambarkan cara kerja patronase di komunitas nelayan. Saya mendapati kasus klasik di mana seorang tokoh lokal yang menjabat ketua kelompok usaha bersama (KUB) nelayan setempat berperan sebagai perantara antara warga dengan kandidat politik. Nashikin, ketua KUB ini, adalah tokoh kunci yang dapat memelihara (atau memutus) hubungan antara komunitasnya dengan politisi pencari suara.

Di Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat (DPR) tingkat nasional, komunitas Nashikin diwakili oleh Fadhloli dari partai Nasdem yang pro-Jokowi. “Saya mengapresiasi apa yang telah dia lakukan untuk kami,” kata Nashikin. Baginya, Fadhloli adalah jenis politisi langka yang rutin mengunjungi konstituennya dan berjuang untuk mereka—sebagian besar dilakukan dengan melobi pemerintah kabupaten setempat untuk memberikan fasilitas negara bagi para nelayan, seperti jaring ikan. “Ada caleg-caleg yang datang tapi setelah itu lupa (dengan kami). Makanya kami tidak akan memilih mereka lagi,” tambahnya.

Hubungan komunitas Nashikin dengan anggota parlemen mereka mencerminkan pola yang jamak terjadi dalam dinamika pemilu lokal di Indonesia, di mana merekrut jaringan lokal dan makelar yang tepat adalah perkara serius.

Komunitas nelayan lainnya menempuh strategi yang berbeda. Aliansi dengan kandidat lokal berfungsi sebagai strategi untuk menagih imbalan yang sejalan dengan kepentingan nelayan. Sugeng, ketua kelompok nelayan lokal lain di Kendal bernama Mina Agung Sejahtera, mengatakan kepada saya bahwa “Pilpres tidak terlalu penting. Yang lebih penting adalah memiliki perwakilan di tingkat lokal.”

Untuk pemilihan legislatif lokal mendatang, Sugeng memberikan dukungannya untuk Mifta Reza Noto Prayitno, seorang anggota parlemen dari partai milik Prabowo, Gerindra, yang memenangkan kursi DPRD dari wilayah Jawa Tengah pada Pileg 2014 lalu. “Karena dia mendukung kepentingan kami. Dia bahkan menggunakan uangnya sendiri untuk mengunjungi kami,” kata Sugeng.

Pendapat serupa dilontarkan Masnu’ah, pemimpin Puspita Bahari, organisasi perempuan yang bekerja di komunitas nelayan di kabupaten Demak. Dia berkata, “Partai politik tidak terlalu penting bagi saya… Sekarang saya lebih melihat kandidatnya.”

Selangkah lebih maju, beberapa nelayan mencalonkan diri dan ikut bertarung di pemilihan lokal. Sulyati, seorang guru dari keluarga nelayan di Gempolsewu, Kendal, mencoba peruntungannya dan maju di pemilihan anggota parlemen daerah pada 2014 dengan tiket dari Gerindra. Meski hampir memenangkan kursi saat itu, dia memutuskan tidak nyaleg tahun ini. “Awalnya saya menyalonkan diri karena dorongan teman-teman saya. Sekarang saya memilih untuk fokus pada kerja-kerja di komunitas saya, ”katanya.

Pemimpin komunitas sekaligus nelayan dari Kabupaten Serdang Bedagai di Sumatera Utara, Sutrisno, juga mencalonkan diri untuk kursi di parlemen tingkat kabupaten, di bawah payung partai PKB yang pro-Jokowi. “Saya pikir penting untuk memiliki seseorang yang dapat menjaga kepentingan kita di tingkat lokal,” ujar Sutrisno.

Lewat aliansi dengan patron politik seperti anggota parlemen, mereka dapat langsung menuai hasil. Sementara, bertarung langsung dalam pemilihan lokal lebih berisiko. Kandidat yang sehari-hari berprofesi sebagai nelayan bisa kalah dan menyurutkan semangat pendukungnya. Namun demikian, Sulyati dan Sutrisno cukup puas dengan pengalaman pemilihan mereka. Walau kalah, pengalaman itu tidak merusak semangat Sulyati.

Sutrisno cukup percaya diri dengan prospeknya untuk 2019. Dia mengatakan kepada saya bahwa dia sudah memiliki cukup suara untuk memperoleh kursi. Akan tetapi, sebagai aktivis hak-hak nelayan, dia juga membutuhkan dukungan dari para nelayan. Saya bertanya apa yang akan dia lakukan begitu dia terpilih. “Salah satu hal yang akan saya perjuangkan adalah memastikan para nelayan dapat menerima semua subsidi, fasilitas, dan program (yang berhak mereka dapatkan),” jawab Sutrisno. Apa dia terlalu optimis? Kita baru akan mengetahuinya setelah pemilu nanti.

Apa yang Bisa Dipelajari dari Mobilisasi Politik Nelayan?
Para nelayan dan sekutu mereka memiliki pandangan dan strategi berbeda terkait pemilihan. Beberapa mendukung pemerintah, yang lain mendukung oposisi. Banyak yang berpendapat bahwa politik nasional masih penting, tetapi bagi sebagian yang lain, kontestasi lokal justru lebih berperan dalam membentuk kehidupan mereka. Kekuatan gerakan para nelayan terletak pada dua senjata utama: mobilisasi massa dan pemungutan suara.

Konsisten dengan hasil studi akademis tentang gerakan kelas bawah, kekuatan mobilisasi nelayan beserta aksi disruptifnya—mulai dari protes massal hingga penghentian kapal pukat ilegal di laut—kerap berhasil membuat elite menyerah pada tuntutan mereka. Keberhasilan ini biasanya diikuti sejumlah perubahan pada kebijakan lokal perubahan dan penguatan demokrasi lokal.

Namun, di tingkat nasional, para nelayan terbagi-bagi berdasarkan afiliasi organisasi masing-masing. Ada lima serikat nelayan. Empat serikat nelayan adalah serikat independen, yaitu Kesatuan Nelayan Tradisional Indonesia (KNTI), Serikat Nelayan Indonesia (SNI), Federasi Serikat Nelayan Nusantara (FSNN), dan Persaudaraan Perempuan Nelayan Indonesia (PPNI). Sedangkan, Himpunan Nelayan Seluruh Indonesia (HNSI), merupakan organisasi korporatis bentukan Orde Baru untuk menaungi nelayan.

Dinamika pemilu belakangan semakin memperuncing perpecahan ini. “Suara nelayan memang terfragmentasi,” ujar Parid Ridwanuddin, aktivis KIARA, sebuah organisasi masyarakat sipil yang memperjuangkan hak-hak masyarakat pesisir dan nelayan. “Mendekati pemilihan ini,” ia menambahkan, “suara mereka juga terbagi antara Jokowi dan Prabowo.” Fragmentasi semacam itu melemahkan kekuatan politik mereka. Walhasil, daya tawar mereka untuk mengajukan alternatif kebijakan nasional di isu kelautan dan perikanan—membatasi ekspansi modal besar di wilayah pesisir atau membendung kekuatan jejaring patronase lokal yang ada—akhirnya pun jadi terbatas.

Namun, di luar keterbatasan mereka, keterlibatan politik nelayan penting untuk penguatan demokrasi di Indonesia. Mereka adalah wujud partisipasi baru dari kelompok kelas bawah dan terpinggirkan. Keterlibatan semacam itu penting untuk mengarahkan kembali debat politik ke masalah nyata, yang berdampak langsung pada mata pencaharian masyarakat. Dengan menjauh dari politik populis yang mengeksploitasi agama dan membicarakan masalah aktual, seperti kesenjangan ekonomi dan konflik antar kelas, politisi mau tak mau dituntut oleh mereka untuk memberikan solusi konkret.

Catatan penulis: Saya ingin mengucapkan terima kasih kepada KIARA dan anggota masyarakat desa-desa nelayan di Kendal, Demak, dan Serdang atas bantuan mereka selama kerja lapangan saya.


Sebelum diterjemahkan oleh Levriana Yustriani, tulisan ini terbit dalam bahasa Inggris di New Mandala dengan judul “Fishing for votes in Indonesia”. Penulisnya, Iqra Anugrah, adalah research associate pada Lembaga Penelitian, Pendidikan dan Penerangan Ekonomi dan Sosial (LP3ES) di Jakarta Pusat. Selama Pemilu 2019, ia menjadi New Mandala Indonesia Correspondent Fellow yang menulis isu lingkungan dan sumber daya alam.

Fishing for votes in Indonesia

“I’ve visited around a thousand communities, meeting people…[then] I encountered the story of Pak Najib, a fisher living in Pasir Putih Beach in Cilamaya, Karawang. He extracted sand to plant in mangrove forest. He was persecuted, criminalised [because of that].” So claimed Prabowo Subianto’s vice-presidential candidate Sandiaga Uno in the first debate of Indonesia’s presidential election on 17 February. Sandiaga’s statement soon created a political spat regarding whether Pak Najib the fisher was indeed unfairly persecuted. Others, such as President Joko Widodo (Jokowi)’s campaign team,questioned whether Sandi really did visit a thousand communities.

But what is certain is that fishers’ rights have received national attention in an unusually prominent forum in the televised election debate. If the Americans have Joe the Plumber, the personification of small business owners hurt by high tax rates, the Indonesians now have Najib the Fisher, the representation of unjustly persecuted wong cilik (little people).

For politicians, keeping fishing communities on side is serious business. The Central Statistics Agency (BPS) estimates that Indonesia is home to close to a million fishing households, with around 2.3 million fishers across the country.This might look miniscule compared to Indonesia’s total population, but this group represents a fifth of the total population of coastal communities. Fisherfolk have strong mobilisational potential, too, as shown in the recent waves of protests over fishing policies that have divided fisherfolk.

As April’s presidential and legislative elections approach, both camps have tried to woo support from fisherfolk. Recently, Jokowi met representatives from various fishers’ groups across Java who asked him to reconsider the recent decision to ban trawl fishing by his uncompromising fisheries and maritime affairs minister, Susi Pudjiastuti. Representing the opposition camp, Sandiaga has made numerous visits to fishing villages. He promised that should he and Prabowo get elected, they will fight hard for the prosperity and the ease of doing business for them.

In my visits to fishing communities in Central Java and North Sumatra during this election campaign, I have found that fishers’ rights, usually a niche issue, have become a part of the mainstream political discourse nationally and locally. To be sure, fishers’ political agency is still primarily excercised in gaining short-term concessions from a variety of political patrons, rather than uniting to press for policy change which benefits fishing communities as a whole. The mostly localised and ad hoc nature of fishers’ political organisation reflects the continuing fragmentation of Indonesian civil society, and the limited avenues that lower-class groups have in influencing politics. But the lesson of the 2019 campaign is that as long as the candidates think their votes matter, fishing communities can still put the policies affecting their livelihoods on the national political agenda.

Fishers’ rights as a political issue

In Jokowi’s first term, maritime and fisheries affairs have had an unprecedented prominence in the mainstream conversation on politics and policy in Indonesia. As a part of his developmentalist ambition, he envisions Indonesia as the next global maritime axis—essentially, a major hub for maritime economy and the exploration of marine and coastal resources. This, coupled with the colourful minister Susi’s nationalist policies such as cracking down on illegal fishing by foreign boats, have turned maritime issues and the lives of coastal and fishing communities into a staple of Indonesian media.

This rising popularity of maritime nationalism—a long-standing feature of Indonesian nationalism—involves a vague sense of solidarity with fisherfolk as providers of food who are often marginalised and left behind in development. Indeed, Susi claims that her war on illegal fishing has increased fishery production and thereby improved the livelihood of Indonesian fishers.

The Prabowo-Sandi campaign has responded accordingly with their own maritime and fishery policy proposals. As stated in their campaign and policy manifesto, they aim to reduce inequality between coastal and inland regions, increase the national budget for the fishery and maritime sectors, channel more credit schemes to fishers, promote infrastructure development as well as integrated economic centres for coastal and small island communities, and set up a market price for commodities that benefit both fishers and consumers. Needless to say, this looks like a lot to achieve. Lacking is the how to realise these campaign promises.

Policy-wise, the governance of maritime and fisheries affairs will most likely remain the same regardless of who is in power. Take the example of the controversy over Minsiter Susi’s ban on trawl fishing. While fishers in Indonesia’s outer islands welcomed the ban, the operators of Java-based trawlers criticised it. This led to a series of protests for and against the ban from both groups.

Eventually, responding to this controversy, Susi succumbed to the pressure by issuing a moratorium on the ban. Sandiaga Uno also made a move on this issue: while he has not taken any specific stance on the trawl fishing controversy, he promised to come up with a “win-win” solution for the fishers’ problems.

How fishers engage in politics

In Indonesia’s competitive electoral landscape, a voting bloc vocal as fisherfolk can become a gamechanger. From my visits to Kendal and Demak districts in Central Java and Serdang Bedagai district in North Sumatra, I found that there are multiple ways fishers influence politics, includingbrokering patronage, establishing alliances with supportive local candidates, or running directly as candidates in local elections.

What stands out, though, is that fishing communities are preoccupied in their political engagement with local politics and parliamentary candidates, seeking political representation and policy concessions at the district or pronvicial level. What we’re yet to see this election is fishing communities acting as a unified, coherent interest group capable of lobbying for policies that suit their interests.

A story from the Central Java village of Gempolsewu in Kendal district, illustrates the locally-focused nature of fishing communities’ political engagement. There I met a classic case of a local broker—the chairperson of a local fishers’ community business unit (KUB)—who serves as the middleman between his fellow neighbours and political candidates. Nashikin, the chairperson of this KUB, is the key figure empowered to maintain or cut ties between his community and vote-seeking politicians.

Nashikin’s community is represented in the national parliament by Fadhloli,  from the pro-Jokowi Nasdem party. “I appreciated what he has done for us,” Nashikin said. For him, the MP is a rare breed of politician who visits his voters regularly and fights for them—mostly by lobbying the local district government to deliver state facilities and other resources for the fishers, such as fishing nets. “There are those who came and then forgot us, and we didn’t vote for them anymore,” he added. Their relationship with their MP is emblematic of the broader pattern of local electoral dynamics in Indonesia, where recruiting the right kind of local networks and brokers matters to politicians—and where voters value the ability of MPs to deliver concrete favours for their constituents.

Other fishing communities opt for a different strategy by establishing alliances with local candidates in exchange for their for fisher interests. Sugeng, the chairperson of another local fishers’ group in Kendal called Mina Agung Sejahtera, told me that “the pilpres (presidential election) doesn’t really matter. What matters more is to have some representation at the local level.”

For the upcoming local legislative elections, Sugeng is throwing his support behind Mifta Reza Noto Prayitno, an incumbent MP for the Central Java provincial parliament from Prabowo Subianto’s Gerindra party. Sugeng is encouraging other fishers to do the same. “This is because he supports our interests. He even used his own money to visit us,” he added. A similar view is also echoed by Masnu’ah, the leader of Puspita Bahari, a women’s organisation working in fishing communities in Demak district. She said, “I no longer judge the political parties that [the candidates] represent; now I assess the candidates directly.” These fishers’ groups support local candidates so that they can maintain their freedom of operation, and push their agendas on the local authorities further.

A few fishers take one step further, and stand themselves as candidates in local elections. Sulyati, a teacher from a fishing family in Gempolsewu, Kendal, tried her luck by standing for Kendal district’s local parliament back 2014, on the Gerindra ticket. She almost won a seat then, but she decided not to run this time. “I gave it a shot mostly because my friends encouraged me to run. Now I choose to focus on my community works,” she said. Another fisher-cum-community leader from Serdang Bedagai district in North Sumatra, Sutrisno, is also running for a seat in the district parliament, this time under the pro-Jokowi PKB party’s ticket. “I think it is important to have someone who can guard our interests at the local level,” he argued. In his view, mass pressure such as protests is necessary, but not enough.

Both of these newcomer politicians from fishing background are also well-connected to their electoral bases: Sulyati is a well-known community organiser and heads a village-level women’s group, Sekar Wilujeng, whereas Sutrisno is the chairperson of the North Sumatran Fishers’ Alliance (ANSU), a province-wide network of fishers’ organisations. Again, while this strategy is relatively new for the fishers, other lower-class constituencies such as peasantunions and trade unions have been utilising it in a number of local elections.

The “passive victim” victim of fishers portrayed by some politicians, then, doesn’t stack up. Indeed, the fishers now hold some good political cards. The question is, how would they play their hand?

By forming alliances with political patrons such as parliamentarians, one can immediately see the results. But contesting directly in local elections is more risky. A fisher candidate can lose, and demoralise his or her supporters. Nevertheless, Sulyati and Sutrisno are quite happy with their electoral experience. Sulyati lost, but that experience does not undermine her spirit, whereas Sutrisno is pretty confident with his prospects in 2019. He told me that he already has enough votes to win a seat, but as a fishers’ rights activist he also needs the support from the fishers too. I asked what he would do once he is elected. He said, “one of the things that I will fight for is to ensure that the fishers can receive all the subsidies, facilities, and programs (that they are entitled to).” Is he being too optimistic? We, and Sutrisno’s supporters, will only find out after the elections.

What fisheries tell us about political mobilisation

It is clear that this year’s presidential and legislative elections have influenced the way fishers and their allies advocate for their rights. They have different views and strategies regarding the elections. Some support the government, others support the opposition; many argue that national politics still matters, but for some others it is local contestation that shapes their lives. The strength of the fishers’ movement lies in their two weapons: mass mobilisation and voting. This means their power will be influential during either election times or occasional policy crises or deadlocks.

Consistent with academic studies on lower-class movements in Indonesia, it is the fishers’ mobilisational power and disruptive actions—from mass protests to stopping illegal trawl boats in the seas—that often trigger elites to concede to their demands, leading to a series of local policy changes and the deepening of a form of local democracy that, while limited, works for those who participate in it. The fishers’ groups that I encountered in the field have done a lot of meaningful work in their respective communities, from promoting women’s rights and economic empowerment to managing a community-based eco-tourism business in mangrove forests.

However, on the national level, the fisherfolk are organisationally fragmented. There are five fishers’ unions: four independent ones, namely the Association of Indonesian Traditional Fishers (KNTI), the Indonesian Fishers’ Union (SNI), the Federation of Fishers’ Unions across the Archipelago (FSNN), and the Sisterhood of Indonesian Fisher Women (PPNI) and a legacy union, the All-Indonesia Fishers’ Association (HNSI), which was formed as a corporatist organisation during the New Order era. At the local level, there are hundreds of fishers’ organisations across the country.

Recent electoral dynamics have further deepened this division. “It is fair to say that the fishers are fragmented,” according to Parid Ridwanuddin, an activist from KIARA, a civil society organisation (CSO) which promotes the rights of coastal and fishing communities. “Approaching these elections,” he added, “their votes are also divided between Jokowi and Prabowo.” Such fragmentation reduces their political power.

Moreover, the fishers are also divided on policy: witness the responses to the trawl fishing controversy, indicating the regional diversity and differing interests among fishing communities. The extent to which they can offer a major alternative national fishing policy (say, limiting the expansion of industrialised fishing enterprises  and big tourism businesses in coastal areas), or overcome the existing localised patronage networks, remains limited for now.

But regardless of their limitations, fishers’ political engagement is a good sign for Indonesia’s democracy because it represents the renewed participation of lower-class and marginalised groups in the post-authoritarian context. Such engagement matters, because it helps to reorient political debates towards the real issues affecting people’s livelihoods, moving away from the religious populism that obscures the actual problems—such as economic inequality and class tensions—that Indonesia must demand their politicians provide solutions to.

Acknowledgement: I would like to thank KIARA and community members of fishing villages in Kendal, Demak, and Serdang Bedagai for their help throughout my fieldwork.