In Indonesia, there exist organizations called the RT (er-teh), designed to support administration at the grassroots-level of state structure. The origins of the RT can be traced back to the "tonari gumi" (neighborhood associations), which were introduced into occupied Indonesia during World War II by the Japanese army, and remained extant into the post-liberation period. Under the Suharto regime, the RT attracted attention as an effective system for controlling residents, stabilizing the political situation, and mobilizing residents' support for development and the GOLKAR Party. Thus it was reorganized and strengthened under the constitution.
According to its charter, the RT are composed of 30 to 50 households as one unit, while the conglomerate RW (er-weh: town associations) are formed from units of 100 to 150 households. However, in a large city such as Jakarta, as there is a constant population influx, in many cases a RT (neighborhood associations) contain as many as 100-150 households. Especially in the area called "kampung" where many common people live, this is the case. The original meaning of "kampung" was "countryside" or "village" but it is also often used to indicate the neighborhoods which stretch out in the back of the official roads, and maintain a village-like social structure. 80% of Jakarta's estimated 10 million live in such concentrated dwelling areas in behind the official roads and not on streets with formal names.
As grass-roots organizations with no formal status in the governmental structure, the heads of the RT and the RW do not receive any wages. However, in reality, unlike their Japanese counterparts, the RT and RW heads perform important functions in assisting administration. Atop the neighborhood and town associations in the official governmental structure, as the lowest unit of the government administrative structure, there are villages (desa--in the rural areas) and wards (kelurahan --in the urban areas), whose leaders exercise strict supervision over the RT and RW heads.
How effectively do the RT, originally formed as a control mechanism, function? I started examining this question around three years ago, with my research centered around one RT in southern part of Jakarata. As a part of this research, in this article, I look at how accurate a picture the RT have of resident movements and population in connection with the voter registration process for the upcoming Indonesian general elections.
I chose one RT located in the Lentens Agung ward located in between Pasar Minggu, a large market town from the olden days, and Depok town (in the extreme northern part of Bogor province) to which the University of Indonesia moved its campus around 10 years ago. It is an area bounded by the north-south railroad which links Jakarta and Bogar, and the Ciliung River, which runs parallel to the railroad. No. 7 RW, and No. 6 RT is my research area. Off the main road, about 400 meters inwards, facing Ciliung River.
This is a typical kampung area. With the exception of a few salaried workers such as low-level public officials, employees of private corporations, policemen, and city bus drivers, most of the residents are engaged in the informal sector, such as day-to-day construction workers, handy men, peddlers, open air shop operators, or those who cook foods at home and sell them, or those who run small-scale general kiosks in front of their houses. Those who feel the effects of the present economic crisis most keenly are from this social layer.
Let us now look at the role the RT plays in controlling the residents in practice. The head of the RT has the power to issue birth certificates, notices of merit, certificates of residence, and various other identification papers. In other words, to do anything in the formal sector, such as enter a school, get a job, obtain a passport, receive permission to start a business, and sell land, all requests must be passed through the gatekeeper, the RT head. Hence, those who fall into disfavor with the RT head encounter difficulties in obtaining references and identification papers. In this sense, the RT head exerts great power over the residents. From the perspective of the government, appointing a RT head who understands the aims of the government and supervises the residents according to government policy can be extremely useful in controlling the residents. Therefore, it is crucial for the government whether the RT head is someone who is cooperative with the government or someone who opposes it.
The RT heads, who occupy such significant posts, are elected by direct voting once every three years. This election is carried out in a rather exaggerated or bombastic manner. Five officials from outside the neighborhood, always including ward office officials, form an election oversight committee, and the results of the voting must be recognized by the ward director. I had, by good circumstance, the opportunity to observe such elections recently in my case study RT. The election took place on a Saturday night in a Moslem mosque within the RT bounds. Only those with family registration cards (kartu keluarga) had the right to vote; therefore, it was not open to all residents. Each dwelling was allowed one vote, and in principle, the head of the household (male) voted, but if the man was absent, his wife or anyone else in the household could act as his proxy.
In front of the RT mosque which served as the election hall, people assembled in great numbers, including hecklers. I was curious to see how they would check which people in such a large crowd had voting privileges. In front of the polling station, the secretary of the RT was sitting with a notebook open, and checking voting rights by matching each person the name list in the notebook. Most likely, the notebook was a list of those who had put in their family registration cards, and therefore, possessed voting rights. Perhaps those who sent in their family registration cards were most likely all acquaintances of the RT leaders, because when people passed in their voting sheets, there was no form of identification confirmation. Those who received voting sheets wrote down the name of the candidate they supported, and threw the sheet into a big basket. The results were read out aloud, one vote by one vote, then written down on a black board. This particular election was in essence a show-down between the incumbent RT head and his predecessor.
The predecessor had been a long-time supporter of the opposition party, Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party, and enjoyed unshakable support among younger people. But due to the fact that he was not of the government party, the GOLKAR, during his term in office, there was much strife and discord between him and the ward office, and consequently, his work did not proceed very smoothly. He resigned his office, and the current-incumbent took over. However, now that Suharto has been removed from office and the "reformation" is underway, the predecessor returned to the political arena one more time. However, unfortunately, he ended up losing to the GOLKAR Party incumbent. Those who have family registration cards are for the most part those who own houses, or are relatively affluent people in the neighborhood; this might explain the tendency toward maintaining the status quo even under current economic conditions. It is possible that the results might have been quite different if all residents, including day-by-day residents in the tenements, had voted.
In a case such as the above small-scale election at the neighborhood level, it might be possible to keep a reasonably accurate record based on memory, but even then, to conduct a fair election, it is necessary to generate an official record of all eligible voters. The national parliamentary elections, held on June 7, was even more difficult a project since it was conducted for the first time under a new method (based on the new elections laws which were revived in the post-Suharto move toward democratization).
In previous elections, one could vote only at the place of resident registration, but this time, as long as one registers beforehand, it is possible to vote in the place where one actually lives. Previously, registration of voters was conducted by members of the election oversight committee who went door-to-door, but under the new law, eligible voters can register at the nearest registration center. The registration period extends from April 5th to 12th and an special meeting were hastily organized at the end of March in my RT to transmit this information to the residents. However, those invited to the meeting were only households with family registration cards; thus, I wondered whether this new registration method was being transmitted accurately to all the eligible voters. For this election, in theory, people could register even without the personal identification card, as long as they had with them some form of official identification (e.g. drivers license, marriage certificate, etc.). Although there is an eligible voters registry, it is not possible to cross-check all the names, so how accurate a registration process was possible? At the very least, at the ward office and the RT level, how accurate a record do they have of the actual number of residents and names? I decided to examine these questions in my case RT.
One of the important functions of the RT was to keep a record of population movements, check the entry of suspicious figures and anti-government elements, and to maintain stability. Consequently, according to bylaws of the RT, any newcomers and arrivals must report to the RT head. If a child is born, a family member dies, or a marriage occurrs, and any such information related to population changes, must all be reported in as well. In Japan, such information is reported to the city or ward office, but in Indonesia, the residents do not report the information directly to the government officeGinstead the RT head enters the information as an intermediary. More specifically, new arrivals must bring their personal identification papers (KTP) from their previous place of residence and report to the RT head, then receive a letter of introduction from the RT head. With this letter of introduction, the newcomers visit the ward office where they purchase the family registeration card form (in triplicate) On the form, there are spaces for the names for all family members, birth places, birthdates, religion, occupation, and other information. Once the form is filled out in triplicate, the newcomer then takes it to the RT head, and the head signs all three copies. One of the copies is taken to the ward office; the second copy is kept by the RT head; and the last copy is kept by the applicant family. If the family moves again, the same procedure must be repeated at the new neighborhood, and all cards and forms held in the RT and ward offices of the old neighborhood must be annulled.
Therefore, the family registeration cards at the ward office and the RT office should correspond, and the number of households or people formally registered in the neighborhood can be determined by counting these cards. I asked to see the cards stored in both places. The results were that at the ward office, there were cards for 105 households, and at the RT head's office, there were cards for only 44 households. Furthermore, although some cards had corresponding matches, some others were found only at one of these places. The cards, it turned out, were completely unreliable. I decided to go door-to-door myself to determine the number of residents directly with my own eyes.
The width of this neighborhood was 1.5 hectares, so it would take only one or two minutes to walk the width. However, there were many houses which were about 2 meters wide clustered at the end of the numerous, irregularly divided by narrow streets, so to count them all was quite a task. Nevertheless, I went door-to-door, and asked for names, and made a registry. Even the RT head, who had at first looked upon this with askance, became more enthusiastic part-way through, saying, "When you've completed it, please make sure to give me a copy." According to the registry, a product of several days labor, including small tenement houses, there were 160 domiciles, 7 of which were unoccupied, but the rest of which were occupied. This meant that at the very least, 153 households live in the neighborhood. The reason why I say "at the very least" is that there are many families from the countryside who are living with friends or relatives, so that the actual number of households would most likely total more than 153.
Let us compare this hand-made registry with the family registration cards at the ward office and the RT head's office. At the ward office, many cards of households no longer living in the neighborhood are still stored: if we exclude these, the still valid family registration cards number 51. At the RT head's office, there were no cards of former residents, but as noted earlier, only 44 valid cards. If we add up the number of valid cards which were kept in at least one of the offices, the total amounts to 63 cards. On the other hand, in my survey, 81 people responded that they had registered. The question then is what happened to the 18 unaccounted cards?
Another problem is that, the RT head knows that those who put in their family registration card is only a limited portion of those residing in the neighborhood. In a report sent in recently to the ward office, he noted, "If we add those who reside in the area without having put in cards, there are a total of 133 households with 575 people living in this neighborhood." But this total is 20 less than the 153 that I counted.
Whether it is the RT head or the ward office, it is almost impossible to maintain an accurate record of the number of residents in the neighborhood. In the urban areas, there are many who come out from the countryside, work for only certain periods of the year, and return to the countryside during harvest season. Among those who live in rented housing, many of them move from one area to another with relative ease and frequency whenever they can upgrade to a better place. In the case study RT, during the several months I was conducting my household survey, about 10% moved. Clearly, the residence stability rates are extremely low. Given this situation, how reliable are the national population statistics published every year by the Central Statistics Bureau? The national censuses conducted once every 10 years are presumably produced by a different method, but the annual statistics are compiled from ward office statistics. There seems to be a high possibility of a gap between the actual numbers and the annual population statistics.
The issue then becomes how to avoid 'double' or redundant registeration between place of family registration and place of actual residence for the upcoming national elections? If grass-roots organizations such as the RT do not possess accurate population numbers, will effective voter registration be possible.
With other statistics, such as national employment and unemployment rates, this inaccuracy makes it difficult to know how to read them. In my case RT, a number of salaried people lost their jobs in the economic crisis. But many of them switched over to the informal sector. Some have taken on jobs as brokers. Of course, with the increase in the number of new entrants, the competition in the informal sector has become more severe, and it has become increasingly difficult to generate an income. Nevertheless, people are earning a living through this informal sector. It is possible to classify such cases as unemployment, or as employment. In short, there are large numbers of people who are partially unemployed. In the official unemployement statistics these people are likely classified as "employed," but the question remains whether it is useful to categorize those who are temporarily engaged in the informal sector as "employed." The reality is far more complex, and difficult to capture through numerical indicators.
In connection to the issue of who and how to categorize as "poor" in the present economic crisis, recently, Indonesian newspapers reported that the government greatly exaggerated the number of "poor" in order to obtain overseas economic assistance. It may be possible that the numbers are produced to support political aims. The method of producing the statistics can be affected greatly by the objectives and the issues which the surveyors want to highlight.
I had always been somewhat skeptical of the extremely high rates in Indonesia for elementary school enrollment. The numbers contrasted with the reality of overflowing street children in the cities, and the proliferation - due to government encouragement - of special study sessions for children who dropped out of schools in the villages. Nonetheless, the official enrollment rates for elementary schools have been close to 100% for quite some time. The problem lies in when the statistics are taken: most likely, the statistics are compiled during Grade 1 upon the start of the school year, and the number of drop outs are completely ignored. Each elementary school likely receives more financial subsidies if larger numbers of students are reported; therefore, it is possible that with the tacit permission of the village office, each school reports in conveniently inflated numbers.
Given the conditions described above, unfortunately, it is clear that statistics in Indonesia are in several instances generated to serve specific objectives. As a consequence, it is unclear to what extent the official numbers are reliable. Unlike statistics on the modern industrial sector, statistics from chaotic areas such as the urban kampung may often be misleading. In using them, one must take into consideration the social structure of the survey locality or culture, and the conditions under which the survey was taken.
(Keio University, Faculty of Economics)