Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Coercing Loyalty: Coalitional Presidentialism and Party Politics in Jokowi's Indonesia

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Coercing Loyalty: Coalitional Presidentialism and Party Politics in Jokowi's Indonesia

Article excerpt

For many years, political scientists have asserted that presidentialism operating within a multi-party system is inherently unstable as presidents find it difficult to build reliable alliances with parties that control parliament. (1) In most cases, the president's own party falls short of holding a majority in the legislature, forcing him or her to rely on parties with questionable loyalties. This problem is made worse if the president does not even enjoy strong backing from his or her own party, as in the case of Indonesia's Joko Widodo (also known as "Jokowi"). But this assumption of weakness inherent in multi-party presidentialism has increasingly been challenged. A recent project on coalitional presidentialism found that "the ability of presidents to form coalitions has meant that the anticipated 'difficult combination' of multiparty politics and presidential systems has not proved detrimental to political stability". (2) Presidents, then, can avoid the traps of multi-party presidentialism by building effective alliances to secure their own survival and ensure the stability of the system as a whole. (3) In order to achieve this goal, presidents use five main tools: cabinet authority; budgetary power; partisan power (i.e. the influence that presidents can wield over their own party); legislative power; and the exchange of favours. (4) Among these, cabinet powers are generally seen as the most effective instrument as they allow for fast yet long-term accommodation of political partners.

A more critical approach to coalitional presidentialism has been one focused on patronage and "promiscuous powersharing" that provides the glue holding presidential and multi-party systems together. Writing on Indonesia and Bolivia, Dan Slater and Erica Simmons emphasized that presidents often invite as many parties as possible into their government in order to stabilize their rule. (5) At times, they contend, "these powersharing arrangements prove so encompassing as to make a mockery of putative partisan differences, and even to wipe out political opposition entirely by bringing every significant party into a 'party cartel'". (6) Thus, presidents get incorporated into a party cartel, with the demarcation lines between presidents and nominally oppositional parties disappearing. This may provide stability, but has other harmful consequences: "such promiscuous powersharing arrangements undermine representation by loosening parties' commitments to their core constituents, and threaten accountability by limiting voters' capacity to remove parties from power via the ballot box". (7) As a result, voters turn to populists--Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines being one prominent example.

However, Indonesian President Jokowi, in office since 2014, has chosen neither to prioritize the options available from the coalitional presidentialism menu, nor to let himself be subsumed into a party cartel. To be sure, he has used the offer of cabinet posts and his legislative powers to exert authority. However, this was not what allowed him to turn a 37 per cent minority in parliament at the beginning of his presidency in October 2014 into a 69 per cent majority by mid-2016. Rather, as I argue in this article, it was the revival of presidential interventionism in internal party affairs--last seen during the rule of autocrat President Suharto (1966-98)--that coerced some parties to abandon their oppositional stance and pledge support to the government. Using its authority to recognize or reject the legality of a party's leadership board, Jokowi's administration supported pro-government factions in at least two opposition parties. Ultimately, the oppositional segments in both parties surrendered and agreed to pledge their allegiance to the government as well. From the rubble of these intra-party battles, then, Jokowi emerged as a significantly strengthened president, with the opposition emasculated.

Jokowi's approach constituted a sharp break from the practice of his predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (2004-14), who had completed two stable yet ineffectual terms (8) by relying on the conventional tools of coalitional presidentialism and, as Slater and Simmons argued, at least partially serving the interests of the party cartel. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.