A regency (Indonesian: kabupaten) is a second-level administrative division of Indonesia, directly administrated under a province. The Indonesian term kabupaten is also sometimes translated as "municipality". Regencies and cities are divided into districts (Kecamatan, or Distrik in Papua).
The English name "regency" comes from the Dutch colonial period, when regencies were ruled by bupati (or regents) and were known as regentschap in Dutch (kabupaten in Javanese and subsequently Indonesian). Bupati had been regional lords under the pre-colonial monarchies of Java. When the Dutch abolished or curtailed those monarchies, the bupati were left as the most senior indigenous authority. They were not strictly speaking "native rulers" because the Dutch claimed full sovereignty over their territory, but in practice they had many of the attributes of petty kings (including elaborate regalia and palaces, and a high degree of impunity).
The Indonesian title of bupati is originally a loanword from Sanskrit originating in India, a shortening of the Sanskrit title bhumi-pati (bhumi भूमि '(of the) land' + pati पति 'lord', hence bhumi-pati 'lord of the land'). In Indonesia, bupati was originally used as a Javanese title for regional rulers in precolonial kingdoms, its first recorded usage being in a Telaga Batu inscription during the Srivijaya period, in which bhupati is mentioned among the titles of local rulers who paid allegiance to Sriwijaya's kings. Related titles which were also used in precolonial Indonesia are adipati ('duke') and senapati ('lord of the army' or 'general').
Regencies in Java territorial units were grouped together into residencies headed by exclusively European residents. This term hinted that the residents had a quasi-diplomatic status in relation to the bupati (and indeed they had such a relationship with the native rulers who continued to prevail in much of Indonesia outside Java), but in practice the bupati had to follow Dutch instructions on any matter of concern to the colonial authorities.
The relationship between those sides was ambivalent: while legal and military power rested with the Dutch government (or, for a long time, with the Dutch East India Company (commonly known as the VOC, an abbreviation of the Dutch Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) under a Governor General in Batavia on Java, the regents held higher protocollary rank than the assistant-resident who supposedly advised them and held day-to-day sway over the population. After the independence of Indonesia in 1945, the terms bupati and kabupaten were applied throughout the archipelago to the administrative unit below the residency (karesidenan).
Since the start of the Reform Era in 1998 a remarkable secession of district governments has arisen in Indonesia. This process has become known as pemekaran (division). Following the surge of support for decentralisation across Indonesia which occurred following the end of the Soeharto era in 1998, key new decentralisation laws were passed in 1999. Subsequently, there was a jump in the number of regencies (and cities) from around 300 at the end of 1998 to over 490 in 2008 ten years later. This secession of new regencies, welcome at first, has become increasingly controversial within Indonesia because the administrative fragmentation has proved costly and has not brought the hoped-for benefits.
Senior levels of the administration have expressed a general feeling that the process of pemekaran now needs to be slowed down (or even stopped for the time being) but local politicians at various levels across government in Indonesia continue to express strong populist support for the continued creation of new regencies.
Since 1998, a large portion of governance have been delegated from central government in Jakarta to local regencies, with regencies now playing important role in providing services to Indonesian people. Direct elections for regents and mayors began in 2005, with the leaders previously being elected by local legislative councils.
pushed to have district chiefs, mayors and governors indirectly voted in by local parliaments, as they were in 2005.