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  • Political Change and Territoriality in Indonesia: Provincial Proliferation by Ehito Kimura
  • Michael Buehler (bio)
Ehito Kimura. Political Change and Territoriality in Indonesia: Provincial Proliferation. London: Routledge, 2013. 171 pp.

The number of provinces and districts in Indonesia has increased dramatically since Indonesia’s political opening in 1998. In his new book, Ehito Kimura asks why this territorial fragmentation has occurred and what it tells us about Indonesian politics.1

His introductory chapter outlines three main arguments. First, new political institutions at the national level created “critical junctures,” during which territorial change became possible. Concretely, the introduction of elections and the decentralization of political and fiscal powers created opportunities for political actors to renegotiate territorial boundaries. Second, the actual contours of territorial proliferation are shaped by highly political and contentious processes. The fault lines of these struggles over space and place do not always emerge between the national and subnational level. Rather, alliances that stretch across government layers often explain why administrative fragmentation has taken different forms. Third, the flexibility of the very notion of “territory” needs to be recognized and understood by how it is shaped in the broader historical context.

The subsequent three chapters describe the historical context in which territorial politics have unfolded since 1945. Chapter 2 defines key terms, such as “territory” and “territoriality,” and situates the concept of “territorial politics” in the literature on coalitional politics and political mobilization. Chapter 3 provides an overview of territorial politics since the colonial period. Kimura argues that territorial changes under the Dutch continue to influence provincial proliferation until today. Chapter 4 explores changes in Indonesia’s territorial administration from the 1950s to the collapse of the New Order in 1998. Kimura concludes that territorial proliferation is dependent upon state strength. During the tumultuous 1950s, when the state was weak, groups situated in society successfully pushed for the creation of new localities. By comparison, the comparatively strong state during the New Order period is the reason that almost no new territorial units emerged during the Suharto years.

The second part of the book looks into territorial politics in Indonesia after 1998. The three case studies explored are indicative of the various forms of territorial proliferation across the country since the demise of Suharto. Chapter 5 examines the split of Gorontalo province from North Sulawesi in 2000. There, tensions between ethnic groups had simmered ever since different groups were lumped together in the residency of Manado during the Dutch colonial period. These rifts, accentuated by colonial policies that favored certain groups over others, resurfaced in the context of democratization after 1998. The minority group of ethnic Gorontalo pushed for a province independent from the Minahasa that constituted the largest ethnic group in North Sulawesi. [End Page 137]

In Chapter 6, Kimura shows that the split of Riau into two provinces in 2004 was driven by different factors. Significant socio-economic inequalities layered on top of ethnic and religious differences were not, together, a factor, as was the case in Gorontalo province. Rather, shifting alliances between the central government (Jakarta) and local elites in one part of the province changed the power balance within Riau after 1998 and, ultimately, gave rise to the new Riau Island province. Territorial change, in other words, occurred due to changing relations between the center and the periphery. In Chapter 7, Kimura examines the creation of West Irian province. There, the territorial fragmentation had its origins at the national level. National elites split the province to quell a secessionist movement as well as to strengthen their control over the region’s natural resources.

Chapter 8 contains a summary of the arguments and examines whether the concept of “territorial coalitions” explains cases of administrative fragmentation outside Indonesia. To this end, Kimura looks at the proliferation of new administrative units in India and Nigeria. He finds that territorial coalitions that include a variety of actors situated at different government layers have also been the driving force behind the creation of new political entities in these two countries. In India, however, many of these territorial coalitions followed party lines, and political parties were eventually the main beneficiaries of provincial proliferation. In Nigeria, ethnic groups that were spread across...


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pp. 137-139
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