Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

The Power of Female Brokers: Local Elections in North Aceh

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

The Power of Female Brokers: Local Elections in North Aceh

Article excerpt

Electoral clientelism involves hierarchical relationships between patrons and clients, and a prominent role for brokers, or intermediaries, between politicians and voters. The gender gap often colours how analysts think about clientelism, with it often being assumed that women are exploited instrumentally by male candidates and other patrons in clientelistic networks. This article looks to the district of North Aceh (Aceh Utara) in the province of Aceh in Indonesia to demonstrate a different pattern, one which suggests that women can exercise authority when they choose to take on roles as brokers in clientelistic networks, and they do so as active agents who exercise political autonomy.

Specifically, female brokers in North Aceh's 2017 local regional head election (pemihhan kepala daerah or pilkada) demonstrate several points. First, they show that women in Aceh are able to reconstruct dominant frameworks for understanding gender through their on-the-ground political action. Second, women are able to exercise authority and autonomy as election brokers, and they can bargain for access to campaign-team resources. Third, women have space to play active roles in election campaigns comparable to those of male brokers. In fact, they are more effective than men in reaching out to marginal groups--especially other women, as well as the elderly and constituents with special needs--by raising issues with resonance for those groups. Moreover, female brokers are also able to reach out to male voters, despite the expectations and assumptions of many male politicians.

Candidates in pilkada across Indonesia tend to distribute patronage and rely on clientelistic methods when campaigning. (1) Most use brokers to distribute cash or goods in order to secure votes. But while studies of brokers and their strategies exist, their ways of distributing resources, and their relative loyalty, few scholars have examined the phenomenon of women as brokers. (2) It is this gap in the literature that this article aims to fill.

Studies of women's political participation generally focus on leadership, and on women as presidents, governors, legislators or bureaucrats, at the national, provincial or city level. One exception, by Mariela Szwarcberg Daby, explores gender imbalance in clientelism in Argentina. (3) She examines how female brokers use what networks, resources and power they have to compete with male brokers, spending more time resolving constituents' problems, but waiting longer both for payment and for opportunities to stand for political office themselves. That study is in the context of a developing country with a strong Christian culture. Despite some parallels, women's experience as brokers in Indonesia differs from that of women in Argentina. While Daby finds that men dominate clientelist politics in Argentina, in Aceh the prevailing sociocultural context offers women significant space for political involvement and access to resources, even if politics generally remains a male-dominated field (for example, women's representation in the provincial legislature has increased from 6 per cent after the 2009 election to 15 per cent-2 of 81 members--after the 2014 election).

Women's agency as discussed here involves three components. The first concerns women's expectations, especially their hopes to shape their candidate's policies in ways that favour women and, if the candidate wins, to promote more women-friendly policies. Second is the role that women actually play in campaigns, as connectors with, distributors to, and mobilizers of constituents. The third dimension of this agency is that female brokers wield bargaining power in securing a fair division of resources.

This research draws on data from interviews, observation and shadowing candidates, female and male brokers, activists and voters. In particular, interviews were conducted with six female brokers for two leading candidates in North Aceh who relied heavily on female brokers in their campaigns. …

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