[The following are notes intended to be the first in a series of informal commentaries on the 2009 Indonesian election campaign. I will try to write these reasonably regularly – but no guarantees. I hope they are of interest.]
The Indonesian election campaign has started, following the announcement of the 44 political parties that passed the electoral verification process. The most obvious signs have been the waves of TV and newspaper political ads broadcast by the most well-healed parties, particularly the new parties established by ex-general Wiranto (HANURA) and ex-general Prabowo (GERINDRA). In reality, however, electoral politics has been ongoing now for at least two years. This has been the result of the new laws passed a few years ago to allow direct elections for the positions of Governor and Vice-Governor as well as for Bupati and Vice-Bupati. Bupatis are head of Kabupaten, the administrative region below governor. The Kabupaten are important administrative units because following the passing of decentralization laws in 2001-2, the Kabupaten administrations have had significantly enhanced budgetary powers.
Elections for governors and bupatis have been staggered throughout the last two years. This means that it is possible to identify some general trends and features of electoral political activity. Some key points are:
It would be tempting to conclude that policy and ideology have played no role in these processes, with no clear pattern to the wide range of combinations and alliances that have taken place. Everybody has been in alliance with everybody at some time or another: fundamentalist with secular; “nationalist” with “religious”; so-called opposition with government parties and so on. However, the more appropriate conclusion is that there is general consensus among all the currently registered parties that the ideological, economic and political perspectives currently reflected in government policies are more-or-less acceptable to all. Differences between parties reflect more the politico-cultural outlooks of segments of the elite whose patron-client praxis is different. These different patron-client praxis in turn can flow from there being different regional bases or different religious bases or different histories of interventions into electoral or other politics.