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“From Regent to Royalty: Bupati’s Appointment as King of Gowa Causes Conflict and Debate in South Sulawesi”, a Commentary by Andrew M. Carruthers

Commentary 2016/62, 15 September 2016

On 8 September, Adnan Purichta Ichsan — the Bupati or “Regent” of Gowa Regency, South Sulawesi — was conferred the title Sombaya Ri Gowa (“He who is revered in Gowa”), effectively declaring him king of the traditional royal polity. His appointment has been widely criticized throughout South Sulawesi as an offensive and unprecedented farce, given that Adnan has no relation to Gowa’s line of hereditary kings. Indeed, the conferral of the title to a “commoner” has infuriated many, especially the followers of Andi Maddusila Andi Idjo, leader of Gowa’s royal family and widely considered to be the rightful Raja of Gowa. From a different angle of vision, however, Adnan is no “commoner.” He is a member of South Sulawesi’s powerful Yasin Limpo family, a political dynasty led by his uncle — the province’s second-term governor, Syahrul Yasin Limpo. Adnan’s appointment is a new episode of an on-going feud between Gowa’s royal family and the Yasin Limpo clan – after Andi was twice defeated by Ichsan Yasin Limpo in elections for district head, and another time by Ichsan’s son, Adnan.

Supporters of Andi Maddusila and Gowa’s royal court have taken umbrage at this latest development. On 11 September, forces of the Gowa kingdom clashed with riot police, resulting in two injuries, and demonstrations continued on 14 September at the regional police headquarters in Makassar. Fiery debates over the legitimacy and meaning of Adnan’s new title are raging in South Sulawesi’s public sphere. Many are taking to social media to air their grievances, and a change.org petition opposing Adnan’s appointment has garnered over 1800 signatures. This popular outcry is noteworthy in so far as it reflects lingering and widespread reverence for Makassarese adat or tradition.

In light of this opposition, it should come as no surprise that Adnan’s uncle, Governor Syahrul Yasin Limpo, has yet to involve himself in the conflict, declaring it a regency-level affair. And yet, some residents of Gowa and Makassar seem fully aware that Adnan’s coronation is actually a family affair. One resident suggested that the Bupati qua King’s “thirst for power” is emblematic of the Yasin Limpo family’s unrestrained political ambitions. Another resident suggested that his coronation was intended to prevent a “dualism in leadership” between a Yasin Limpo-led regional government and Gowa’s royal court, characterizing it as an effort by the regional government to further consolidate its control over an enfeebled royal polity.

At the time of this writing, whispers abound in Makassar that Adnan is in the midst of preparing an apology to the people of Gowa for any insult or injury caused by his coronation. Notwithstanding this possibility, his appointment still bears on broader dynamics in Indonesia, highlighting how the power of political dynasties can coalesce in surprising and unexpected ways.

Andrew M. Carruthers is Visiting Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute

The facts and views expressed are solely that of the author/authors and do not necessarily reflect that of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.  No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission.