- Electoral Dynamics in Indonesia: Money Politics, Patronage and Clientelism at the Grassroots ed. by Edward Aspinall and Mada Sukmajati
Saying that money plays a crucial role in Indonesian politics has become somewhat of a truism in recent years. Popular commentaries in the Indonesian press are replete with denunciations of “money politics”, a vague term used to refer to practices ranging from vote-buying to political finance. The prolific academic literature on the subject has exposed the organic relationship between money and politics in democratic Indonesia, focusing on the collusion between politicians and powerful interest groups and often portraying Indonesian politics as being dominated by patronage and clientelism. Nevertheless, as the editors of the book under review correctly note (p. 8), scholars typically only assert the dominance of patronage and clientelistic practices, neglecting the actual mechanisms through which politicians and voters engage in materialistic exchanges.
Electoral Dynamics in Indonesia, edited by Edward Aspinall and Mada Sukmajati, aims to tackle this lacuna with an exhaustive analysis of the 2014 legislative election campaign in several electoral districts. The book focuses on voter–politician linkages, shedding light on the appeals articulated by candidates during campaigns and the organizations created to convey such messages to voters. The volume opens with an introduction in which the editors define the empirical setting, outline the theoretical framework and summarize the key findings. Following that, the remaining twenty-two empirical chapters take the reader on a journey of remarkable empirical depth and geographical reach, covering most of the country’s regions. Unfortunately, the volume lacks a concluding chapter, which would have helped the reader appreciate the value of this project with regards to the comparative literature on clientelism and electoral politics in young democracies.
Overall, the book succeeds in its aim to unpack the “black box” of money politics thanks to its consistent, painstaking attention to the micro-level interactions between voters, candidates and brokers. The empirical chapters are well written and easy to read by way of comparative analysis, as they focus on a set of common research questions and follow the same methodological approach, based on a mix of interviews with informed respondents and ethnographic methods of observation. [End Page 321]
The editors identify two main findings emerging from the empirics. First, patronage distribution is central to campaigning, and it usually trumps programmatic and identity-based appeals. Second, to manage their campaigns, candidates are more likely to rely on informal networks known as tim sukses (campaign teams) rather than party machines. Both claims resonate with what we already know about Indonesian electoral politics, but the exceptional richness of the empirical material analyzed adds value to the existing literature. Furthermore, the individual chapters offer interesting indications for further research by focusing in on specific aspects of campaigning that are understudied in the literature. Examples include the use of “formal contracts” between candidates and voters (Chapter 3 by Teuku Muhammad Jafar Sulaiman), the effect of gender quotas (Chapter 9 by Argoposo Cahyo Nugroho), the role of trade unions (Chapter 11 by Amalinda Savirani), the meticulous de-mobilizing work of gambling bosses who bet against certain candidates (Chapter 15 by Zusiana Elly Triantini), the timing of electorally-motivated intergovernmental transfers (Chapter 19 by Nono S.A. Sumampouw), and the intricacies of collective voting in Papua (Chapter 23 by Cillian Nolan).
While the volume’s contributions to the literature are empirical, there are two theoretical and methodological vectors that deserve scrutiny. First, the extent to which “clientelism” or “patronage” are helpful terms to characterize the dynamics explored in the case studies is debatable. As the introductory chapter observes, reciprocity is a key feature of both patronage and clientelistic relationships: voters are expected to provide political support in return for material benefits. However, the candidates interviewed in various regions of Indonesia are deeply sceptical that voters can be trusted to reciprocate their munificence. Given this recurrent and strong finding, does it still make sense to describe “money politics” as patronage or vote-buying? Since candidates distribute cash and small gifts with the...