Indonesia Court Ruling May Allow GKR Mangkubumi to Become First Female Sultan of Yogyakarta

The Sultan's Palace in Yogyakarta | © F Mira/ Flickr
The Sultan's Palace in Yogyakarta | © F Mira/ Flickr
The Special Region of Yogyakarta is an outstanding gem in the strands of the tropical jewel, Indonesia. Its remarkable cultural heritage still defines and even refines the region’s singularity. One of Yogyakarta’s attributes that distinguish the region is the prevailing of a Sultanate as a functioning government unit.

Sultan Hamengkubuwono X is the current sovereign of the pre-colonial monarchy. According to tradition, the position is supposed to be carried on by his son, and so forth. But the Sultan, who has reigned since 1989, has only five daughters and no son.

Even though the patriarchal traditions of the kingdom inhibited the sovereign power to be passed along to a female lineage, a recent change in constitution may have paved the way for the first female Sultan. Indonesia’s Constitutional Court has agreed to expunge the field that requires information on the “wife” in the biodata format for the Yogyakarta governor candidate. Administratively, the Sultan is tantamount to the province Governor in other Indonesian regions.

Albeit small, this seemingly insignificant change has scrapped the presumption of discrimination that only men can rule Yogyakarta, even though that has always been the case. In a patriarchal structure like Yogyakarta’s, the implications of this change alone are big enough to spark debate.

The Sultan’s House in Yogyakarta © Soham Banerjee/ Flickr

The Sultan is pleased with this ruling and hopes to advance his eldest daughter, Gusti Kanjeng Ratu (GKR) Mangkubumi as his successor, making her the first female Sultan. In 2015, GKR Mangkubumi was proclaimed as Yogyakarta’s crown princess in a royal proclamation issued by the Sultan. Even then, controversy arose over whether a woman is suitable for such a position.

Those who are opposed to the notion believe that the Sultan’s younger brother should be the successor instead. The Sultan’s brother himself, Gusti Yudho, commented that the position could never be held by a woman, stressing that a Sultan is also a religious leader for the area.

The idea of having a female leader is still met with resistance throughout the region. Even so, others are convinced there should no longer be a gender discrimination on leadership. Whether this ruling will lead to a significant social change, however, remains to be seen.