Resources, Politics and Violence

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29. Resources, Politics and Violence: Local Politics in Contemporary Indonesia

Published in March, 2015.
Kyoto University Press.



The end of an authoritarian regime is often followed by fierce struggles for control of power and resources, leading to civil war and strife, particularly in countries rich in natural resources. Yet, this was not the case in Indonesia after the collapse of the Soeharto regime.


Analyzing the case of resource rich Kalimantan, the book examines the intriguing patron and client relationship among national and local (provincial and district) levels with the focus on the allocation of local government positions and benefits derived from resource development among political and economic elites before and after the fall of Soeharto.

The book provides the reasons why there was virtually no violence in the power struggle in East Kalimantan compared with Central and West Kalimantan when all the three provinces of multi-ethnic society were rich in natural resources. East Kalimantan was abundant in oil and natural gas under the purview of the national government while Central and West Kalimantan depended primarily on forest resources.

By examining the intricate web of patron-client relationship, the author found differences in the patron-client network in the allocation of benefits derived from resource development among the three provinces. The differences depended on the type of natural resources abundant in a province and determined who emerged as local power players in the post-Soeharto Indonesia. The people who had access to natural resources through patronage and their “colluding friends” in the government during the Soeharto era, were now the power brokers between the local and national levels.

Those who used violence as political means after the Soeharto era were people who had been kept outside the patron-client network economically, and allocated the least number of local government posts. These people did not have the financial resources to sustain and expand their violent ways to gain local power in their province. They also had no intention of destroying the existing political system. They merely sought for more government posts for themselves. Once they obtained the position, they were satisfied and had no further motivation to continue engaging in violence.

The book concludes that apart from the sharing of the economic pie from natural resources, the allocation of local government positions could hold the key in preventing an outbreak of a civil war aimed at overthrowing a state administration.