Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Unopposed but Not Uncontested: Brokers and "Vote Buying" in the 2017 Pati District Election

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Unopposed but Not Uncontested: Brokers and "Vote Buying" in the 2017 Pati District Election

Article excerpt

This article examines the brokerage activity and vote-buying behaviour in the 2017 local government election in the district of Pati, Central Java. This election is an unusual example of an incumbent candidate running unopposed: a growing trend in Indonesian local elections (see article by Cornells Lay et al. in this special issue). Despite being unopposed, Indonesian election laws provide a "blank box" option that voters can choose instead of supporting the unopposed candidate on the ballot. This creates pressure on candidates to seek the support of both political parties and voters needed to win on election day. During this particular election, for example, there was a campaign led by two prominent political leaders opposed to the candidate encouraging citizens to vote for the "blank box" and, in so doing, deny the incumbent re-election.

Based on interviews with the incumbent candidate, brokers representing the incumbent and the opposition, campaign funders, gamblers, party leaders and voters in the Pati regency, we examine the brokerage activity and campaign activities during this election. Our findings point to three main conclusions. First, despite running unopposed, there was campaign activity such as building a tim sukses ("success team" or campaign organization) by the incumbent that involved vigorous efforts to mobilize and persuade voters months before election day. These efforts were undertaken despite the incumbent candidate and his campaign team expressing great confidence in the weeks prior to the election about their chances of victory. The efforts also involved robust discussion about how much money certain brokers would offer to voters.

Second, and relatedly, such discussions focused heavily on cultural considerations that involved demonstrating respect and humility to voters instead of more transactional considerations. The offering of cash to voters occurred well after the candidate had secured enough votes to win the election (as indicated by internal polling), suggesting that "vote buying" in this election was less about transactional exchange of votes for cash than about showing respect and humility to voters.

Finally, we found very little betrayal among brokers (e.g., keeping the money that was intended for voters) who were distributing money on behalf of the incumbent. Possible explanations for this unusual level of broker loyalty include the likelihood that the incumbent would win the election, the use of a "spy team" to monitor brokerage activity and clientelistic relationships between brokers working within the incumbent's tim sukses. While unopposed elections appear on the surface to lack strong competition, such campaigns can sometimes involve rigorous activities similar to those found in hotly contested elections where multiple candidates are competing.

Brokerage Activity and Vote Buying in Indonesia

In any complex organization, specialization of labour is required. Political campaigns are often large operations that include numerous individuals hired to help the campaign win elections. Having a separation of duties and responsibilities in the form of separate "teams" within the same organization should hardly be surprising. Most campaigns in Indonesia use tim sukses ("success team") representing complex and interconnected teams of campaign specialists. The tim sukses is often hierarchical and structured according to existing geographic political units, including separate "teams" for each level. (1) These teams include party leaders, prominent party members, business and religious leaders, and so forth.

A central facet of the campaign team involves the role of "brokers"--intermediaries between the campaign and voters themselves--who are tasked with persuading voters to support the candidate and often (but not always) distributing cash and other goods to the voters on behalf of the campaign. (2) There is often a hierarchy between higher-level brokers providing sums of money and lower-level brokers (whom they hire themselves) to distribute money to voters. …

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