Shepherds of the People
The politics of compulsory land acquisition in post-Suharto Indonesia was contentious and complex. During the five-year period that led to the promulgation of a Land Procurement for Development in the Public Interest Law in 2012, the key political battles were waged not in public contests between the executive and the legislature, and much less in debates between civil society groups and the state, but rather in debates within the state, often in closed-door sequestrations of civil servants from various agencies. Once the law was passed by the legislature, further bureaucratic debates took place, leading to what was the most important part of the law, an implementing regulation called Presidential Regulation 71/2012 that laid down the specific rules governing the process. Thereafter, the politics of land acquisition moved into the field and sparked a contest between regulators in Jakarta, traditional adat land managers in the provinces, and the local courts that mediated compensation issues.
In studying politics in Asia or elsewhere, we are prone to look at legislative or electoral battles first. Yet the politics that matters often takes place outside of the limelight of the legislature and centers on bureaucrats, executives, courts, and local governments. A large part of politics involves how public policies are proposed, elaborated, implemented, and revised within the state. Legislatures typically pass only enabling statutes that leave the most important policy decisions to the administrative and regulatory functions of the bureaucracy and its governance networks. Indeed, often those statutes have been largely written by bureaucratic experts themselves, leaving very little scope for legislative influence.