Passing on the challenges or prescribing better management of diversity? Decentralisation, power sharing and conflict dynamics in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia.


In 1999, following the end of the 32-year rule of Suharto's New Order administration, Indonesia embarked on an ambitious decentralization programme. Decentralization and greater regional autonomy emerged in response to demands for the vast and diverse regions of the country to self-manage as well as to bring government services closer to beneficiaries. It can also be seen as a response to the long-standing grievances existing in the regions against 54 years of centralised government administration. The structural and institutional changes have, on the one hand, achieved the initial aims of the legislation and to some extent addressed existing grievances in the regions. On the other hand, however, such change has opened up spaces for new forms of local-level elite competition and grassroots mobilisation around a variety of local identities and interests. It has also led to a proliferation of district-splitting and shifts in local-level demographics. All of these aspects have the potential to interact with local-level conflict dynamics, either ameliorating tensions or potentially triggering new conflicts. This paper uses the cases of Poso and Donggala districts in Central Sulawesi to examine these dynamics. Poso is an area which has experienced communal violence as well as conflicts involving the state, whereas Donggala has not experienced violence on the same scale. Both regions have multiethnic and religious populations. This paper argues that decentralisation has had both positive and negative indirect impacts on conflict dynamics in both areas. Firstly, it has allowed for the direct election of regional heads. This has changed the nature of local politics, which of course heightens local tensions through competition for power. At the same time it involves the populace in decision making, to some extent alleviating the grievances they may have had. Secondly, it has changed population demographics by redrawing administrative boundaries. In both districts this is resulting in greater ethno-religious segregation. It has also changed the boundaries around the voting populace, which can play into conflict tensions if such boundaries reinforce sensitive identity cleavages. Carving out new regions creates new district legislatures and executives, which can fuel competition for these fiercely soughtafter positions and the associated political power, as well as group competition for the resources in the 'new' region. However, it simultaneously reduces competition pressures in the 'mother' region, as was the case in Poso. This is not to say that the demographic, structural, and institutional changes stimulated by decentralisation will necessarily lead to violent conflict but rather that they do interact with or potentially stimulate local tensions. Felt grievances, perceptions of inequalities, and claims to minority rights are just some of the contentious issues which can interact with decentralisation policies. Effective interventions, awareness and forethought, as well as conflict management strategies which channel these tensions into productive outcomes rather than destructive violence, will ensure that diversity flourishes in multi-ethnic and religious states such as Indonesia, while adversity is curbed. This will also ensure that what is a potentially a temporary phenomenon resulting from transition does not solidify into long-term grievances and potentially violent conflict.

Read the id21 Research Highlight: Peace through elections in Sulawesi, Indonesia


CRISE Working Paper 38, 26 pp.

Passing on the challenges or prescribing better management of diversity? Decentralisation, power sharing and conflict dynamics in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Published 1 January 2007