The Power of Female Brokers: Local Elections in North Aceh.

AuthorDarwin, Rizkika Lhena

Electoral clientelism involves hierarchical relationships between patrons and clients, and a prominent role for brokers, or intermediaries, between politicians and voters. The gender gap often colours how analysts think about clientelism, with it often being assumed that women are exploited instrumentally by male candidates and other patrons in clientelistic networks. This article looks to the district of North Aceh (Aceh Utara) in the province of Aceh in Indonesia to demonstrate a different pattern, one which suggests that women can exercise authority when they choose to take on roles as brokers in clientelistic networks, and they do so as active agents who exercise political autonomy.

Specifically, female brokers in North Aceh's 2017 local regional head election (pemihhan kepala daerah or pilkada) demonstrate several points. First, they show that women in Aceh are able to reconstruct dominant frameworks for understanding gender through their on-the-ground political action. Second, women are able to exercise authority and autonomy as election brokers, and they can bargain for access to campaign-team resources. Third, women have space to play active roles in election campaigns comparable to those of male brokers. In fact, they are more effective than men in reaching out to marginal groups--especially other women, as well as the elderly and constituents with special needs--by raising issues with resonance for those groups. Moreover, female brokers are also able to reach out to male voters, despite the expectations and assumptions of many male politicians.

Candidates in pilkada across Indonesia tend to distribute patronage and rely on clientelistic methods when campaigning. (1) Most use brokers to distribute cash or goods in order to secure votes. But while studies of brokers and their strategies exist, their ways of distributing resources, and their relative loyalty, few scholars have examined the phenomenon of women as brokers. (2) It is this gap in the literature that this article aims to fill.

Studies of women's political participation generally focus on leadership, and on women as presidents, governors, legislators or bureaucrats, at the national, provincial or city level. One exception, by Mariela Szwarcberg Daby, explores gender imbalance in clientelism in Argentina. (3) She examines how female brokers use what networks, resources and power they have to compete with male brokers, spending more time resolving constituents' problems, but waiting longer both for payment and for opportunities to stand for political office themselves. That study is in the context of a developing country with a strong Christian culture. Despite some parallels, women's experience as brokers in Indonesia differs from that of women in Argentina. While Daby finds that men dominate clientelist politics in Argentina, in Aceh the prevailing sociocultural context offers women significant space for political involvement and access to resources, even if politics generally remains a male-dominated field (for example, women's representation in the provincial legislature has increased from 6 per cent after the 2009 election to 15 per cent-2 of 81 members--after the 2014 election).

Women's agency as discussed here involves three components. The first concerns women's expectations, especially their hopes to shape their candidate's policies in ways that favour women and, if the candidate wins, to promote more women-friendly policies. Second is the role that women actually play in campaigns, as connectors with, distributors to, and mobilizers of constituents. The third dimension of this agency is that female brokers wield bargaining power in securing a fair division of resources.

This research draws on data from interviews, observation and shadowing candidates, female and male brokers, activists and voters. In particular, interviews were conducted with six female brokers for two leading candidates in North Aceh who relied heavily on female brokers in their campaigns.

This article considers women's power from a novel perspective, by looking beyond women as office holders to query what authority women can wield in clientelist relations. More specifically, why do women become brokers? As brokers, how much autonomy do women have, and what power do they exercise vis-a-vis voters? How substantial are the differences between female and male brokers, including their access to resources? And after taking on such political roles, do female brokers face discrimination in securing rewards (money, strategic positions) from the candidate they support?

The analysis proceeds in seven parts. The first section introduces the setting and analytical goals. The second presents a profile of the pilkada in North Aceh. The third presents a theoretical framework for conceptualizing female brokers, clientelism and gender inequality. The fourth section sketches women's agency in the context of Aceh. The fifth probes female brokers' power and autonomy. The sixth explains women's agency in campaign work, while the final section offers a summary.

Why Study the Election in North Aceh?

This research centres on North Aceh, including its capital city, Lhoksukon. Several features of this district, which includes 27 subdistricts (kecamatan) and 852 villages, are worth noting. First, North Aceh has more female than male voters. Moreover, women's turnout rate for elections is higher than that for men, suggesting a greater desire among women to participate in politics. Of the 27 subdistricts in North Aceh, in 25 (92 per cent), women's turnout rate exceeded men's. Second, North Aceh was at the centre of the violent conflict during the years of the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM) insurgency (1976-2005) and it was also affected by the massive 26 December 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami; both of these upheavals have influenced women's thinking about their place in society and politics. Third, the district of North Aceh has passed policies that regulate public space and gender in recent years. For instance, North Aceh has issued local regulations (called qanun) requiring separation of female and male schoolchildren in classrooms, extending to junior and senior high school, and prohibiting men and women from sharing a motorbike if they are not close relatives (muhrim). These three factors help set the context that shapes the role played by women in local politics.

Four pairs of candidates contested the February 2017 district head (bupati) election in North Aceh. Of the four candidate pairs, two were supported by political parties while two ran as independents. Listed first on the ballot was the team of H. Muhammad Thaib and Fauzi Yusuf, supported by Partai Aceh--the party which is the successor to the former independence movement, GAM, and which also holds the majority of seats in the North Aceh legislature (Dewan Pimpinan Rakyat Kabupaten, DPRK). H. Muhammad Thaib, often called Cek Mad, was the incumbent bupati. In the conflict years he was active in GAM and then he became treasurer of Partai Aceh in North Aceh after the signing of the Helsinki Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between GAM and the Indonesian government in 2005. Before the conflict he had been a security guard for PT Pupuk Iskandar Muda (a major fertilizer manufacturer in the district). His candidacy sparked internal debate within Partai Aceh, and several cadres opposed it. However, because Partai Aceh uses a "command system" (sistem komando) in selecting its nominees, Thaib's candidacy was secured. Even so, the resulting dispute meant that several cadres shifted their support to a rival, Fakhrurrazi H. Cut. Nevertheless, and demonstrating the continuing influence of Partai Aceh in the district, and the power of incumbency, Thaib eventually secured a convincing victory, with 47.31 per cent or 122,235 of the total votes cast.

As candidates, H. Muhammad Thaib and his running mate Fauzi Yusuf made use of female brokers, who made a significant contribution to their success. In many ways this outcome was ironic: in his role as bupati, H. Muhammad Thaib had tended to close public space to women. Yet during the campaign he promoted a discourse about women's interests, which his female brokers had used to attract support.

The second pair on the ballot, Muhammad Nasir and H.T. Muttaqin, were supported by a coalition of parties: Partai Nasional Demokrat (National Democratic Party, NasDem), Partai Persatuan Pembangunan (United Development Party, PPP), and Golkar (Partai Golongan Karya, Functional Groups Party). Muhammad Nasir, a businessman, lived in Jakarta and worked with the National Association of Indonesian Consultants (INKINDO). He was among six candidates competing for the NasDem nomination in North Aceh, while his running mate, H.T. Muttaqin, headed the district party branch. The process of selecting Muhammad Nasir was highly politicized, with the result suggesting that a number of PPP and NasDem cadres, including women, ultimately had opted to work for other candidates. Muhammad Nasir made little use of female brokers, and women's issues did not feature in his campaign. In the end, he was third placed, with 9.11 per cent of the vote.

The third on the ballot was an independent candidate representing the local artistic community, Syamsuddin Ayah Panton, who was better known as Ayah Panton. He was distinguished by his use of Acehnese-language verses when campaigning, and by his attempts to appeal for support among the arts communities. However, he won little support, with only 2.53 per cent of the vote, placing him last. Ayah Panton too sidelined discussion of women's issues, relying on an explicitly patriarchal discourse:

I did not make maximal use of women as members of success teams (timses). Patriarchy will remain very dominant in Aceh so long as Aceh still recognizes male guardianship (perwalian). The discourse of gender equality is a Western framework that tries to make headway in Aceh, but our...

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