Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Programmatic Politics and Voter Preferences: The 2017 Election in Kulon Progo, Yogyakarta

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Programmatic Politics and Voter Preferences: The 2017 Election in Kulon Progo, Yogyakarta

Article excerpt

This article explores the use of programmatic politics, i.e. reliance on programmes that are designed to benefit broad social groups and without tying such benefits to political support, as an electoral strategy in an Indonesian local election in 2017. (1) We examine how a programmatic strategy can work in a context normally dominated by vote buying and patronage politics. This endeavour is important not only to identify the factors which can facilitate such "exceptionalism" in the future, but also for understanding change and continuity in Indonesian electoral politics, and the prospects of electoral democracy in the country.

Indonesia's electoral democracy has been characterized as being dominated by vote buying and clientelism in which candidates rely on discretionary and transactional distribution of material benefits to voters. (2) In such a context, politicians are understood as using these strategies to secure votes and consolidate power, while voters, particularly the poor and disadvantaged, are seen as preferring tangible benefits that can provide direct and immediate relief to their most pressing needs, rather than opting to support candidates who make promises of broad policy change. The evidence that such a system prevails is far-reaching. Edward Aspinall, Mada Sukmajati and their collaborators have shown that vote buying is entrenched in legislative elections in Indonesia. (3) Various works also suggest that clientelism is characteristic of local executive government head elections. (4)

The case we are focused on in this article--the 2017 local election in Kulon Progo district, Yogyakarta Special Region--does not follow the standard pattern of clientelism and vote buying. In general, incumbent local government heads have greater chances in Indonesia to win elections through discretionary and transactional distribution of resources. They control the government bureaucracy and the budget, and can raise large campaign funds either by manipulating these resources, or by striking deals with rent-seeking business players. However, in the 2017 election in Kulon Progo, Hasto Wardoyo, the incumbent candidate, relied on programmatic policies and his record as bupati (district head) in providing basic public services and local economic development. He was a kind of local populist. To explore how this election worked, we conducted a range of in-depth interviews with voters, electoral officials, candidates and campaign workers in Kulon Progo, observed campaign events and conducted a two-stage survey of 200 voters in six villages.

By analysing the case of Kulon Progo we seek to contribute to studies of programmatic strategies and elections, most of which focus on political parties competing in national races (5) and which rarely discuss local politics and candidate-centred elections. To understand this phenomenon, we ask two questions: why did the incumbent in Kulon Progo use programmatic strategies and opt out of clientelism?; and why did voters support his programmatic approach? By addressing these questions, this article seeks to contribute to the literature on programmatic policies, but in the context of individual leadership rather than that offered by political parties.

Our findings show that the popular incumbent prepared a vote buying strategy, but he did not activate it for two reasons. First, he and his campaign team had identified that he had strong support from voters in Kulon Progo as a result of his policies which had addressed concrete basic needs. Second, the incumbent's challenger was not popular and failed to run a campaign, or distribute gifts, which might have swayed voters.

This article is structured as follows. First, we discuss the concept of programmatic politics and its use in elections, and distinguish it from clientelistic strategies. Second, we provide an overview of the 2017 local elections in Kulon Progo, wherein money politics and a clientelistic strategy were prepared by the incumbent candidate, but were not activated in the end. …

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