Miftahul Jannah, a Democrat Party candidate for Ngawi district, meditated in the stream of the sacred river of Tempuk Alas Kedonggo–located in the midst of a teak jungle in Ngawi–to achieve her ambition to become an MP.
She is not the only one. Hundreds of parliamentary candidates across Indonesia are following rituals in sacred–and sometimes dangerous–mountains, rivers, beaches and caves following procedures set by dukun (a person with paranormal power).
The cost for these kinds of methods isn’t cheap. Ki Joko Bodo, the leading dukun in Indonesia, said that cost for national parliament is around 1 to 10 billion Rupiah or around US$100,000 to US$1 million, depending on the candidate. For the Indonesian presidency, the cost can go up to US$5 million. Another newcomer in paranormal business, Desembriar Rosyady, uses a different strategy. He guarantees 100% that those who believe in him will be elected. The cost varies, but it’s said to be up to US$100 million for a presidential race. The money is held by a notary and will only be given to him if the candidate is elected.
In the modern era, why do candidates use ‘irrational’ means to achieve their political goals? The answer might rely on the contradictory understanding of the concept power: between Western rationalities of power versus the Javanese concept of power, nicely presented in a classic text by Benedict Anderson, The Idea of Power in Javanese Culture. Unlike the modern European concept of power that is abstract, of heterogeneous sources, with no inherit limits of accumulation, and morally ambiguous, Javanese believe that power is concrete, coming from a single source, constant in total quantity and doesn’t raise questions of legitimacy. Power, in Javanese culture, can be present in sacred things like keris (dagger), akik (gemstone) and amulets. Candidates follow rituals in order to absorb “power” that resides in sacred places and to accumulate power within them.
Interestingly, the relationship between politician and paranormal is actually a relationship of political economy. A former student of mine, Muhammad Sahlan, researched this relationship between dukun and politicians and came to the conclusion that the relation is actually quite rational and mutually beneficial. He did his research in Banyuwangi district in East Java, a stronghold of superstition in Indonesia, where dukun receive privileges among society. Dukun need financial support from the candidate through various from of rituals. By the same token, candidates need dukun as power brokers to gain support, especially for the masses of voters who believe in a dukun’s capability. Candidates have connections with dukun in every electoral area, especially in the location unreachable by party machine.
Quite rational after all, then.
Bayu Dardias is a Lecturer in Politics and Government at Universitas Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta and a PhD candidate at the Department of Political and Social Change at the Australian National University, researching the role of traditional monarchies and aristocracies in contemporary Indonesian politics.