AAS Annual Meeting

Southeast Asia Session 403

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Session 403: Aliran Now? Identity and Political Competition in the New Indonesian Democracy - Indonesian and East Timor Studies Committee

Organizer: Nathan W. Allen, University of British Columbia, Canada

Chair: Ronald Lukens-Bull, University of North Florida, USA

Discussant: Ronald Lukens-Bull, University of North Florida, USA

Much has been said of the apparent decline of traditional identities – popularly known as aliran – in Indonesian democracy (Mujani and Liddle, 2009). Meanwhile, a new wave of close studies of local politics find that ethno-religious identity continues to play a central role in political life. Using innovative data and methods, this panel speaks to these seemingly contradictory findings, explaining how and when traditional identities remain politically salient in Indonesian politics. In the first paper, Nathan Allen explains why electoral districts feature great variation in the number of candidates entering the political arena. He suggests that the key explanatory variable is ethnic heterogeneity, where candidates are attracted to the higher levels of patronage that exist in ethnically heterogeneous regions. In the second paper, Colm Fox and Jeremy Menchik provide graphic evidence of the continued importance of ethno-religious identities, analyzing over 3500 electoral campaign posters from the 2009 elections. Fox and Menchik show that identity continues to feature heavily in political advertisements, illuminating how candidates communicate to potential voters. In the third paper, Sunny Tanuwidjaja challenges findings which emphasize the decline of religious identity in voting, and suggests that religious preferences are obscured by the complex relationships between religion and political actors. He uses experimental survey methods to show that voters retain strong religious political preferences. By assessing different parts of the democratic process – party organization, political campaigns, and voter behaviour – this panel hopes to make a direct contribution to our understanding of how ethno-religious identities shape the new Indonesian democracy.

Ants to Sugar: Candidate Recruitment and Entry in Indonesia
Nathan W. Allen, University of British Columbia, Canada

Political parties need candidates. Candidates provide funds, rally party support, and articulate the party’s message to local constituents. The success of candidate recruitment efforts varies across parties and electoral districts. In some electoral districts, aspiring politicians are abundant and candidate lists swell. In others, aspiring politicians are a scarce commodity and candidate lists go unfilled. How can we account for this variation? Using a dataset that includes over 30,000 national legislative candidates from all three reformasi-era elections, I find a strong correlation between ethnic diversity and candidate entry rates. In ethnically diverse electoral districts, Indonesian citizens are more likely to put themselves forth as candidates and, consequently, parties in such regions feature more candidates on their lists. Having established this correlation, I turn to explain it. Preliminary studies reveal that ethnically heterogeneous regions offer more patronage opportunities for sitting politicians. This leads me to propose that the higher number of candidates in heterogeneous districts is caused by opportunities for political patronage. Like ants attracted to sugar, citizens are more likely to offer themselves as candidates when they believe material benefits will flow from the efforts.

Religious Voting in Indonesia 2009 General Election
Sunny Tanuwidjaja, Independent Scholar, Indonesia

As the links between social cleavages, political parties, and voters continue to weaken in Indonesia, the argument for the emergence of a more rational voters and the decline of religious influence in voting behavior become more popular. The hypothesis of the emergence of rational voters in Indonesia, however, is based on incomplete analysis of individual behavior. The primary weakness of the argument is on its failure to take into account the difference between preference and choice. The reason why it is difficult to observe the influence of religion on voting behavior in the 2009 election is due to the structure of choice that is available. This paper uses an experimental survey approach and finds that there is a strong religious preference in voting behavior. This paper argues that religious voting is highly prevalent although not easily observable in the 2009 election due to the limited religious variation across parties and candidates.

The Politics of Identity in Indonesia: Results from Campaign Advertisements
Colm Fox, George Washington University, USA

Recent research on political identity in Indonesia has tended to stress the secular leanings of the government, political parties, candidates, and voters. While this research has been primarily based on case studies and opinion polls, our analysis of political identity draws on a unique data source – political campaign advertisements. During the 2009 national, provincial, and local legislative elections we photographed candidates’ political advertisements that were posted along the street and published in local Indonesian newspapers. Over 3,000 unique political advertisements were collected and compiled into a dataset. Spanning 13 provinces and approximately 2,500 national, provincial, and local level political candidates, this represents the largest collection of Indonesian political advertisements ever gathered. The advertisements were then individually coded for identity and non-identity related symbols, messages, and appeals. Since candidates use particular combinations of nationalist, party, religious, ethnic, and regional symbols in their campaign advertisements, the analysis helps to reveal the variation in how identity is used in electoral campaigns across regions of Indonesia, gender, local and national elections, and political parties. While the analysis shows that symbols of nationalism and political party dominate political advertisements in Indonesia, it also reveals the more subtle ways in which candidates use religious, ethnic, and regional appeals to attract voters. Overall, the combined data can help scholars better understand the dynamics and development of political identity in Indonesia ten years after its democratic transition.