Programmatic Politics and Voter Preferences: The 2017 Election in Kulon Progo, Yogyakarta.

AuthorMas'udi, Wawan

This article explores the use of programmatic politics, i.e. reliance on programmes that are designed to benefit broad social groups and without tying such benefits to political support, as an electoral strategy in an Indonesian local election in 2017. (1) We examine how a programmatic strategy can work in a context normally dominated by vote buying and patronage politics. This endeavour is important not only to identify the factors which can facilitate such "exceptionalism" in the future, but also for understanding change and continuity in Indonesian electoral politics, and the prospects of electoral democracy in the country.

Indonesia's electoral democracy has been characterized as being dominated by vote buying and clientelism in which candidates rely on discretionary and transactional distribution of material benefits to voters. (2) In such a context, politicians are understood as using these strategies to secure votes and consolidate power, while voters, particularly the poor and disadvantaged, are seen as preferring tangible benefits that can provide direct and immediate relief to their most pressing needs, rather than opting to support candidates who make promises of broad policy change. The evidence that such a system prevails is far-reaching. Edward Aspinall, Mada Sukmajati and their collaborators have shown that vote buying is entrenched in legislative elections in Indonesia. (3) Various works also suggest that clientelism is characteristic of local executive government head elections. (4)

The case we are focused on in this article--the 2017 local election in Kulon Progo district, Yogyakarta Special Region--does not follow the standard pattern of clientelism and vote buying. In general, incumbent local government heads have greater chances in Indonesia to win elections through discretionary and transactional distribution of resources. They control the government bureaucracy and the budget, and can raise large campaign funds either by manipulating these resources, or by striking deals with rent-seeking business players. However, in the 2017 election in Kulon Progo, Hasto Wardoyo, the incumbent candidate, relied on programmatic policies and his record as bupati (district head) in providing basic public services and local economic development. He was a kind of local populist. To explore how this election worked, we conducted a range of in-depth interviews with voters, electoral officials, candidates and campaign workers in Kulon Progo, observed campaign events and conducted a two-stage survey of 200 voters in six villages.

By analysing the case of Kulon Progo we seek to contribute to studies of programmatic strategies and elections, most of which focus on political parties competing in national races (5) and which rarely discuss local politics and candidate-centred elections. To understand this phenomenon, we ask two questions: why did the incumbent in Kulon Progo use programmatic strategies and opt out of clientelism?; and why did voters support his programmatic approach? By addressing these questions, this article seeks to contribute to the literature on programmatic policies, but in the context of individual leadership rather than that offered by political parties.

Our findings show that the popular incumbent prepared a vote buying strategy, but he did not activate it for two reasons. First, he and his campaign team had identified that he had strong support from voters in Kulon Progo as a result of his policies which had addressed concrete basic needs. Second, the incumbent's challenger was not popular and failed to run a campaign, or distribute gifts, which might have swayed voters.

This article is structured as follows. First, we discuss the concept of programmatic politics and its use in elections, and distinguish it from clientelistic strategies. Second, we provide an overview of the 2017 local elections in Kulon Progo, wherein money politics and a clientelistic strategy were prepared by the incumbent candidate, but were not activated in the end. Third, we provide a background description on programmatic politics in Kulon Progo and address the extent to which these helped the incumbent to build popularity among voters. Fourth, we discuss how voters' preferences in Kulon Progo were affected by the incumbents' past political programmes, instead of the allure of money politics. Finally, we conclude by asking whether this case study of programmatic politics was truly a significant correction of the dominant clientelistic pattern, or merely a variation.

Programmatic Politics and Local Elections in Indonesia

Programmatic politics are an important part of electoral competition in many political systems. According to Nic Cheeseman et al., such politics occur when a party (or, by extension, a candidate) emphasizes its past record of implementation in public policy delivery, or its promises of future policies as strategies to gain electoral support, rather than relying on other appeals, such as those based on ethnic solidarity, candidate charisma, material exchange or patronage networks. (6) Programmatic political parties are usually identified not only by the structured manner in which they offer a suite of public policies to voters, but also typically by those policies' alignment with consistent ideological positions. According to Herbert Kitschelt and Susan Stokes, what distinguishes programmatic politics from clientelism is that, in the former, beneficiaries of a policy receive the benefit (e.g. a pension, a loan or public housing) on the basis of whether they meet the policy's formal criteria, rather than on the basis of their political affiliation or vote. (7) In contrast with clientelistic politicians who distribute rewards only to their supporters, winning candidates who practise programmatic politics implement their promised policies without discriminating against voters who supported rival candidates or parties. As Kitschelt and Steven Wilkinson explain, "Programmatic linkage therefore directs benefits at very large groups in which only a fraction of the members may actually support the candidate. In other words, politicians enter a non-contingent, indirect political exchange." (8)

Programmatic politics are generally found in democracies with relatively developed economies and welfare systems. In advanced economies, public services and systems of social protection tend to be universal and provide equal access to all citizens, or at least on the basis of need. Citizens do not need to form direct attachments with benevolent political leaders in order to attain benefits. In such countries, political competition tends to focus on programmes and, according to Michael Steven Lewis-Beck and Richard Nadeau, voters tend to determine their preferences on the basis of those programmes or on the basis of government economic performance. (9) The situation is different in less developed countries, where states lack resources for universal programmes, which often leads parties and politicians to rely upon targeted distribution in the form of clientelism to attract support. (10)

Overall, the existing literature has tended to link programmatic politics with the character of political parties, rather than with individual politicians. Although some studies have shown that programmatic politics can also occur in developing democracies, especially if mixed with clientelistic strategies, it is commonly understood that programmatic politics find hard to take root in countries with lower levels of economic development, which are instead characterized by clientelism. (11)

This article therefore takes a perspective that is distinctive from dominant studies of programmatic politics. First, we describe the emergence of programmatic competition in a region with a relatively low level of economic development within Indonesia's developing democracy. Second, we explain a form of programmatic politics that was personalized and closely linked to an individual politician rather than being associated with a party. Third, while most studies of programmatic politics focus on parties and other formal institutions, we also focus on the perspective of voters, exploring their perceptions of clientelistic exchange and programmatic politics through our survey.

Money Politics in Kulon Progo

One of the most intriguing features of the 2017 election in Kulon Progo was the fact that the incumbent prepared a vote buying strategy, though in the end he did not activate it. Any candidate in a system of popular elections can use a variety of programmatic, clientelistic, identity-based or charismatic appeals. Such approaches are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and candidates can combine these strategies. This was certainly the case in the 2011 and 2017 elections in Kulon Progo, both won by Hasto Wardoyo. In both elections, Hasto and his campaign team prepared a "money politics" strategy, by which they would distribute cash payments to voters. Yet, in neither election did they fully activate this strategy. They were able to discard it because Hasto could substitute it by using a more broadly based patronage approach in 2011 and a programmatic campaign in 2017.

In 2011, Hasto Wardoyo--a gynaecologist in Yogyakarta, who was famous because of a weekly local television programme in which he provided maternal health advice--won the election in Kulon Progo with 46 per cent of the vote, defeating the incumbent deputy district head and two other candidates. Hasto was a nonparty politician who received support from the PDI-P [Partai Demokrasi Indonesia-Perjuangan, Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle], the strongest party in the district, after he enrolled as a party member a few months before the election. PDI-P leaders in Kulon Progo initially provided him with only lukewarm support. This situation changed when, during the candidate selection process carried out by national party leaders in Jakarta, he succeeded in winning the support...

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