- Democracy for Sale: Elections, Clientelism and the State in Indonesia by Edward Aspinall and Ward Berenschot
Since the end of President Soeharto's New Order regime, transactional politics has become prevalent in Indonesia. Politicians try to win elections using community brokers and bargain over cash or other material rewards in exchange for electoral votes. These practices occur not only within "formal" institutions, i.e. political parties, but increasingly outside parties through informal, ad hoc or freewheeling deals. While these clientelistic practices have become more common and entrenched, the authors of this book note that this practice, especially its determinants and variations, remains relatively understudied. Democracy for Sale tries to fill this literature gap by examining how clientelistic exchanges are organized in practice and how they vary in nature and intensity across Indonesia's large and diverse political landscape.
Placing informal or clientelistic politics at the centre of its analysis, the book looks at how such practices play out in Indonesia in comparison with other large democracies such as India and Argentina. Its main argument is that the informal politics of clientelism and patronage is critical in explaining why democratization in Indonesia has failed to eradicate widespread corruption (p. 250). The authors describe how election campaigns have become very expensive for aspiring and incumbent politicians due to pervasive clientelistic practices. As a consequence, when they are elected as state officials, they tend to act corruptly, thus undermining the institutions of the state (p. 250). Elections, therefore, are deemed as a sale of state power, in which whoever has money and privileged access to state resources stands a greater chance of winning. This is why clientelistic politics (or informal politics) worsen social inequality [End Page 447] (pp. 250–51). It might also be responsible for many developmental challenges in Indonesia, such as environmental degradation, poor spatial planning and inadequate public services (p. 13). As such, uncovering the workings of clientelistic politics is important for the remediation of governance challenges in Indonesia.
The book employs an innovative method of analysis by combining extensive ethnographic research with quantitative methods. The authors draw on a lengthy period of fieldwork during 2013–14 and an expert survey with 509 local observers, including academics, journalists, campaign organizers and non-governmental organization (NGO) activists in thirty-eight districts across Indonesia. The survey aims to assess how clientelistic practices are perceived across regions with different social and economic characteristics. The authors then present an innovative Clientelism Perception Index (CPI). As the book rightly points out, clientelistic practices manifest themselves in many different forms. They might involve either monetary or non-monetary rewards to buy votes, including the distribution of various state resources. In this book, CPI is measured using seven categories of clientelistic practices: public services, welfare programmes, contracts, jobs, licenses, social assistance funds and vote buying
(p. 235). However, given the complexity and variations in clientelistic practices, it is difficult to interpret the index when different forms of clientelistic practices are combined into a single index. One might wonder whether the authors are indeed comparing like with like, since they equate granting government jobs with providing social welfare programmes to the community.
The CPI is measured based on "expert assessments", which means that it reflects the selective view of a small group of people about clientelistic practices in their respective regions. The selection of experts may generate biases. For instance, if the expert making the assessments is an NGO activist, then his/her assessments may be biased. Similarly, an expert's cultural background and social understanding of corruption may influence their responses. For example, an expert who has a high moral standard might determine that his/her district is rife with clientelistic practices and thus assign a high score to the district. Meanwhile, an expert from another cultural background might rate the same district with a lower score.
Moreover, the authors then ranked the thirty-eight districts based on their respective calculated CPI. The lowest-scoring district, Surabaya, was considered as the least clientelistic district, while Kupang...