The corporatist perspective on the state seeks to comprehend both those states like Singapore which accommodate and manage societal interests, and also those which seek to exclude and suppress them. Indonesia has sometimes been depicted in such exclusionary state corporatist terms so as to focus on the unresponsiveness of the state to societal interests, but this has not been the dominant model. The most pervasive characterization of the Indonesian state has rather been that which stresses élite factionalism and the personalistic use of governmental power; and this approach has similarly been employed primarily to stress the insulation of the state from the wider society. 1 The intention here, however, is to explore the alternative perspective, which shows how the personalist characterization of the Indonesian state illuminates the interconnections between state and society. The suggestion is that the inherent fragilities of the neo-patrimonial state generate the development and politicization of ethnic communalism, either in the form of integrative communal patronage networks, or as the mobilization of ethnicity for purposes of electoral opposition, or as ethno-regional rebellion.
These links between the neo-patrimonial characterization of the state and the political impact of ethnic communalism are examined, in the Indonesian context, in order to gain an understanding of the ethno-regional politics of the province of Aceh. The most widespread explanation of Aceh’s unique political history is that which sees its primordial cultural, linguistic and religious distinctiveness as the cause of its history of political autonomy, oppositionism and insurrection. By contrast, the nature of Aceh’s ethnic politics, and the impact on national