The 2017 Pilkada (Local Elections) in Indonesia: Clientelism, Programmatic Politics and Social Networks.

AuthorAspinall, Edward

The articles in this special issue of Contemporary Southeast Asia take a close look at seven local elections which were held in different locations in Indonesia--from the city of Jayapura in Papua in the far southeast, to the district of North Aceh in the northwest--in February 2017. Most of the articles drill down into the micropolitics of electoral competition in one location, with one of them comparing two regions. By doing so, they aim not simply to add to what is already a large case-study literature about local elections in Indonesia, but to contribute fresh insights into the underlying logic of electoral competition in such races, and to pinpoint emerging trends in Indonesian politics. Above all, they illustrate the inventiveness of Indonesian political candidates, and their ability to combine widely varying political networks, social organizations, sources of financial, social and political capital and campaign styles when running for office.

Pilkada--pemilihan kepala daerah, elections of regional heads--have been a feature of Indonesia's political landscape for just over 12 years. In June 2005, Indonesia embarked on a new phase of democratization when it held the first such elections in the country's history. In the years between the collapse of the Soeharto regime in 1998 and the introduction of local elections in 2005, Indonesia had already experienced twinned processes of democratization and decentralization. Democratization opened up political participation, made elections more free and gave them a more central role in determining who would occupy high political office, while decentralization devolved political authority and financial resources to the provinces and, especially, to the districts, making local government positions much more powerful, and therefore much more worthy of serious political competition.

During the first years of the so-called reformasi era, however, local government heads were not directly elected by residents, but were instead chosen by local legislatures through processes which frequently involved unseemly horse trading and vote buying. The introduction of direct elections were therefore seen as an attempt to deepen democracy by providing ordinary Indonesians with a personal role in choosing their local government officials and, so it was hoped, improving relationships of accountability between the citizenry and the levels of government now most directly responsible for delivering services to them. (1)

Since that time, pilkada have become an entrenched and routinized part of Indonesian political life, occurring (sometimes with some delay) every five years in each of Indonesia's 508 districts and 34 provinces. Several changes have occurred in how pilkada are organized. For example, in 2007, Indonesia's Constitutional Court decreed that independent candidates were allowed to run; previously all candidates had to be endorsed by parties that had won a set portion of votes or seats in the most recent legislative election in the region concerned (the current figures are 25 per cent and 20 per cent respectively). Since 2015, the country has begun to synchronize its pilkada schedule, rather than allowing each district or province to proceed independently, as had been the previous practice. In December 2005, 269 such elections were held; in February 2017 there were 101 (seven of which are our focus in this issue), and another 171 are scheduled for June 2018. The ultimate goal is that by 2027, all schedules will be fully synchronized, with pilkada in all parts of Indonesia occurring on the same day every five years. But these will be superficial changes, and the basic format of pilkada will remain unchanged: candidates stand as pairs (mayors and deputy mayors in urban municipalities or kota; regents [bupati] and deputy regents in rural districts or kabupaten; governors and deputy governors in provinces) and, in most parts of the country, the pair that wins the highest vote share over 30 per cent in the first round is declared the winner (Jakarta is the exception; here a second round is automatically held if no candidate pair wins over 50 per cent).

A diverse and rich literature focusing on pilkada and related aspects of local politics has burgeoned since 2005. Much of this literature is framed as part of a broader debate about the degree to which political changes since 1998 have fundamentally democratized Indonesian society. One school of thought--especially associated with proponents of the so-called oligarchy approach within Indonesian political studies--views local institutions and local elections as having been captured by elites with their roots in the New Order regime. Critics, however, respond by pointing to the genuine democratic contestation that (often) occurs in pilkada, to the space such elections sometimes provide for the representation of popular interests, and to their role in driving policy change. (2) In fact, the gap between these two sides in the debate is narrow, with there being broad consensus that economically powerful actors are generally the dominant players in local elections, but that...

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