With a small fine, polygamy makes a comeback in Indonesia
by Mathias Hariyadi
A district in West Nusa Tenggara Province opens the door to "multiple families". Paying a US$ 80 fine will suffice to get another wife. For the district's top official, this will reduce graft among public officials charged with fighting the practice. However, the local bylaw violates a national law and the fine's amount is pitiful.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - The authorities in East Lombok District, West Nusa Tenggara Province (NTB), adopted a bylaw that allows polygamy upon payment of a million rupees (just over 80 dollars) to the local treasury department.

This has sparked controversy and an animated discussion among Indonesians. Although morally accepted under Islam - which allows up to four wives - polygamy in modern Indonesia "is not considered a common practice." In fact, most Indonesian men have only one wife, including Muslims.

Under the Suharto regime (1967-1998), polygamy was prohibited and severely punished. President Suharto had only one wife, Tien Suharto, to whom he remained faithful throughout his life. And she was the one influenced him in terms of morality and family practices, promoting a strongly monogamous model.

The rule was applied with such firmness that civil servants at the time would not dare take another wife for fear of dismissal.

In the past ten years though, a radical change has occurred under the presidency of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Although he has remained a one-wife man, he has been unwilling or unable to stop polygamy from making a comeback in the country, especially in the government itself.

Indeed, some of his government ministers, from pro-Islamic parties, are polygamous, and the president has done nothing to prevent it.

However, what happened in East Lombok has aspects and peculiarities that make it "different" from what normally happens.

In fact, not only is polygamy "approved from a moral and legal point of view" but also it is seen a source of revenue.

The District Bylaw 26/2014 promulgated by District Chief Dahlan bin Ali (pictured) will allow for polygamy at a cost of a million rupees per marriage. And this will replenish district coffers. 

For local authorities, polygamy fines are intended as a way to counter graft. Oftentimes, local officials pocket bribe money when they become aware of families with more than one wife. Instead of filing a case against them, they are paid off to turn a blind eye. 

Polygamy is regulated by a national law (No. 10/1983), which requires that, to marry other women, a man must obtain the consent of the first wife and a written letter that certifies his ability to meet her financial needs and those of the second wife as well as his ability to split "nights" between them.

What is more, a man can take a second wife if his first wife is unable or unwilling to perform her duties as wife and mother.

These exceptional reasons are therefore quite different from the requirements imposed by East Lombok district authorities. 

In Jakarta, the central government has already raised question about the bylaw's legality and constitutionality, because a local rule cannot override a national law.

Even a fine is meaningless if - as in this case - the sum is ridiculously low, a Home Affairs Ministry official said.

They should have to pay "at least a billion rupees," said Home Ministry's Legal Desk Sigit Widodo Pudjianto.