AAS Annual Meeting

Southeast Asia Session 23

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Session 23: Understanding Indonesian Politics: New Puzzles and Perspectives from the Field - Supported by the Indonesia and East Timor Studies Committee

Organizer: Alexander R. Arifianto, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Discussants: Thomas Pepinsky, Cornell University, USA; R. William Liddle, Ohio State University, USA

In this panel, we show that the study of contemporary Indonesian politics yields fundamental insights to basic questions in contemporary social science, such as: how party systems are developed and institutionalized, how women increased their political participation in a democratizing state, and how patron-client relations and corruption endure in the face of rapid democratization and institutional changes. This panel will highlight new empirical research that proposes new answers to these questions through the study of contemporary Indonesian politics. The papers represent diverse theoretical, epistemological, and methodological perspectives. In addition to representing the cutting edge of new research on Indonesian politics, the papers confirm how the study of Indonesian politics can help social scientists to resolve long-standing puzzles in the field of comparative politics. The findings in these papers inform generalists within the discipline as well as country and area specialists.

Unbuilding Blocs: Cleavages and Cartelization in Indonesian Party Politics, 1999-2009
Dan Slater, University of Chicago, USA

When Indonesia democratized in the late 1990s, it appeared likely that party competition would be characterized by two primary cleavages: a regime cleavage pitting reformist opponents of the fallen dictatorship against its holdovers, and a religious cleavage distinguishing parties by their varying views on the proper political role for Islam. Yet a decade later, neither a reformist nor a religious bloc exists in Indonesian party politics. This is not because reformist and religious themes lack resonance among large blocs of voters – it is because Indonesia’s parties effectively abandoned cleavage politics by colluding to share power in an all-encompassing party cartel. Rather than working separately to serve specific social constituencies, Indonesian parties have worked together to seize and share the perquisites of state power.

After 2009 Election: A Cartelized Party System and the Failure of the Opposition
Kuskridho Ambardi, Independent Scholar, Indonesia

Many argue that Indonesia has established a competitive party system since the inception of democracy in 1999. Looking at the alternating winners in the last three elections, it is very logical to say that there is a vibrant competition among political parties from one election to another. This paper argues otherwise, however, and makes two related claims. First, the Indonesian party system is not as competitive as it appears. Cabinet formation, coalition making, and parliamentary politics are marked by party collusion than competition. Second, political divisions at party level do not produce a real political opposition. And parties that stay outside the government do not develop policy platforms as does a true opposition in a competitive party system. Thus, the Indonesian party system is more correctly labeled as a cartelized party system. This paper then will explore the evidence that can substantiate the claims. Accordingly, it will look at the source or sources of the cartelization and the failure of the opposition party to offer a viable political alternative.

Lowering the Barriers to Women in National Politics: Institutional and Social-Political Sources of Increased Female Representation in the 2009 Indonesian General Elections
Sarah Y. Shair-Rosenfield, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, USA

What explains how a Muslim majority democracy with an electoral system designed to minimize the impact of a gender quota and placement mandate suddenly outperforms some of the world's oldest and supposedly egalitarian democracies in the arena of female representation? Assessing the institutional and social-political factors affecting representation, this paper explains three causes for the improvement in women's representation in the 2009 Indonesian elections: 1) despite the option to choose individual candidates voters largely selected in list order making the quotas effective for representatives from parties gaining multiple seats in larger districts; 2) the incumbency rate in Indonesia is quite low, reducing the impact of an oft-cited barrier to relatively inexperienced candidates (especially for women); and 3) voters more often elevated, rather than demoted, women from their list positions where such promotions often resulted in women obtaining the only seat allocated to their party in a given district. Underpinning all these causes is the fact that the quota and placement mandates were generally followed by parties, especially those passing the threshold to enter the legislature. As a result, despite electoral institutions commonly-believed to mitigate the effects of gender-inclusion policies, the overall female proportion of national legislative seats increased between the 2004 and 2009 elections and the causes suggest future increases are possible.

Toward identifying a deep architecture of Indonesian politics
Edward Aspinall, Australian National University, Australia

Scholars of Indonesian politics have yet to develop a way to characterize the fundamental ordering principles of the new post-Suharto politics. In the past, Clifford Geertz’s notion of aliran (stream) politics captured central features of Indonesian political organization in the 1950s and 1960s. According to Geertz, the main actors in Indonesian politics were the socio-religious “streams” embodied in the major political parties and their networks of mass organizations. In the 1970s and 1980s, the state took centre stage in most analyses, with scholars seeing the New Order state as standing above society, depoliticizing, directing and reordering it. This paper will begin the attempt to characterize the fundamentals of political organization in contemporary Indonesia. Such a characterization will combine emphases on fragmentation and on patronage. Rather than being a pillared society in which political life is ordered around a few socio-political currents to which citizens owe primary allegiance, and rather than being a polity with an all-powerful centralizing state, Indonesia has become a society with a proliferation of administrative and political power centers. With few exceptions, patronage is the glue that binds political loyalties and organizations. This combination has injected deep alienation into everyday politics, with most ordinary citizens viewing the political establishment with cynicism. But what in one respect appears as a source of fragility, may also be a source of resilience, with this pattern imparting to Indonesian political life a high degree of pragmatism and flexibility.

Institutional Change and Structural Resistance: The Meso-Politics of Indonesia’s Democratic Consolidation
Christian von Luebke, Stanford University, Germany

Despite the introduction of competitive elections and decentralization, Indonesia’s democracy has yet to realize its promise of better government. Service and corruption levels have deteriorated markedly during early transition years and have only recently begun to approximate the benchmarks of the late Suharto regime. This U-shaped governance path signals that non-democratic structures have compromised (although fortunately to a diminishing extent) the efficacy of democratic rules. In this paper I argue that Indonesia’s governance downswing is closely linked to the ‘meso-politics’ of democratic consolidation: that is, the continuous interplay of institutional rules, socio-economic structures, and political agency. To discern how institutions and structures interact – and how these interactions shape the powers and incentives of political actors – I apply a multi-method research design. The combination of national case studies (KPK and Bank Century scandals), subnational governance surveys (based on original data from 2000 local firms across ten districts) and statistical analyses (using a 200-district dataset) makes it possible to shed new light on the causes of delayed democratic accountability. Preliminary findings suggest that structural inequalities – such as income and education gaps – perpetuate state clientelism and skew political arenas in favor of old-regime elites. But they also suggest that structural and institutional innovations – such as direct presidential and mayoral elections and affordable communication technologies – expose government leaders to greater public scrutiny and, over time, strengthen the efficacy of democratic norms.