Indonesia’s 2004 elections have encouraged the view among the international community that the post-Suharto democratic transition is now being consolidated. This assessment is supported by the fact that both general and presidential elections, which embraced more than 150 million voters, were conducted peacefully. Moreover, the victory of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a popular presidential candidate challenging the incumbent Megawati Sukarnoputri, is widely recognized as a victory for ‘public opinion’, which has been disappointed by Megawati and her political party, the PDI-P. The disenchanted public thus voted against them, resulting in the birth of the Yudhoyono administration. This may reflect the growing importance of ‘people power’ in Indonesia’s national politics. However, the impact of the 2004 elections on local politics illustrates different dynamics. This article — based on extensive fieldwork by the author — argues that the elections significantly contributed to the strengthening of the local power elite who had governed everyday politico-economic life, and this in turn effectively shrank the space for civil society in promoting democratic change in local politics. How and why this development occurred constitutes the focus of this article. A close look at the local electoral process shows how the elite use democratic institutions, such as elections, to preserve their politico-economic benefits. To clarify this, we first attempt to elucidate the way in which local political power has been restructured after the fall of Suharto. The removal of Suharto caused the elite ‘iron triangle’, comprising the Golkar (the ruling party of Suharto), local bureaucrats and business circles, to largely collapse, and opened up space for a new power elite involving PDI-P politicians, local informal bosses, military commands, hoodlums (preman) and religious leaders, as commonly seen in West, Central and East Java. The growing competition for local power has radically facilitated money politics and political mobilization of preman. The use of preman for organizing ‘mass’ movement became an important device by which the elite gained access to local government resources, which effectively emasculated civil society in its effort to empower the ‘mass’ based on class/vocational identities. Assessing these changes is the key to understanding the impact of the 2004 elections in West, Central and East Java. Our comparative analysis demonstrates how elite practice has remained largely unchanged, how its power structure has even been fortified, and how there is now a grave risk that the sophisticated power elite will skilfully hijack the still-fragile democracy at the local level.
A series of elections in 2004 clearly and finally changed the political landscape of the South Sulawesi province, one of the politically most conservative areas in Indonesia. Golkar, the dominant political party during the authoritarian Suharto regime, still governed the post- Suharto local politics of South Sulawesi because it won a majority in the democratic 1999 election. But the situation has changed in 2004. In April, the Golkar party failed to gain the predicted 70% of the votes and just got less than 45% in the general election. In July and September, Golkar’s presidential candidate only got approximately 15% and 13% of the votes respectively. The question this paper addresses is why Golkar’s political machine worked less effectively and efficiently in South Sulawesi. The answer lies in the political opportunism of the local elite and the highly vertical nature of social relationships in South Sulawesi. The opportunism was triggered by a series of local gubernatorial/district head elections, prior to the 2004 elections. In the hunt for power the Golkar elite was split, motivating many of them to run for non-Golkar parties. They fought each other as they sought posts as governors and district heads. As the elite showed their political opportunism and appeared not to care much about their party, their clients followed suit. Golkar started to fall apart from ‘above’ and ‘within’ prior to the 2004 elections. In the general election in April 2004, Golkar was no longer as solid as before and finally failed to win a majority in South Sulawesi. A part of Golkar elite moved to other Islamic and regionalist political parties and successfully obtained some local assembly seats. And the younger elite who failed to become local Golkar parliamentarians became politicians from other parties. Diversification of party politics helped the young elite to gain access to political power. In the direct presidential elections in July and September, Golkar as an institution did not function at all. The politically and economically most influential patron from Golkar in South Sulawesi, Jusuf Kalla, changed sides suddenly and became the vice-presidential candidate for a small party with the justification that his opportunistic attitude was good for the nation. The political acrobatics of this significant patron had a snowball effect and his (‘would-be’) clients rushed to his side and the Golkar political machine collapsed with just about a quarter of the total vote. The decline of Golkar and the rise of other parties could signify either the belated collapse of the Suharto regime, or the belated coming of reformasi (political reform) in South Sulawesi, but importantly, it was not caused by voters’ rational choice of supporting policies and programmes provided by political parties during the elections. The decline of Golkar and the diversification of party politics came simply because clients followed the opportunistic political choice of their patrons.
This article considers the political landscape of Poso Regency by looking at electoral politics of the local People’s Representatives in 2004. Since December 1998 Poso has been stigmatized as a region of conflict between Christians and Muslims. In the past six years, recurring violence has left the region’s capital city, Poso, and a number of villages along its major roads in ruins. Thousands of local residents have been killed and many others internally displaced in waves to cities such as Palu, Manado, Makassar, and even Jakarta. The 2004 election in Poso went peacefully and resulted in victory for the Prosperous Peace Party (PDS), the sole Christian-affiliated party in the contest. The PDS claimed 25.94% of the vote, followed by the previously dominant Golkar Party with 18.02%. The triumph of the PDS in Poso attests to the peculiar political conditions prevailing in the regency in comparison with other regions. The occurrence and nature of this political peculiarity are the main subjects of this article. I contend that changes to the administrative and electoral frameworks have transformed political conditions in Poso. In 2003 the formerly sizeable regency was carved up into three regencies: Poso, Morowali, and Tojo Una-Una. The creation of Muslim-dominated Tojo Una-Una and Morowali as separate units has turned Poso into a regency with a large Christian majority. In effect, electoral districts in Poso were mapped into three major constituencies, each comprising three small districts. This article demonstrates that the mapping of small electoral districts conferred greater significance to local-based individuals than to political parties, which in turn influenced the dynamics of the election. Another finding is that the transformation of Poso into a ‘Christian’ regency has made religion less of a factor in people’s political agenda; rather, socio-economic recovery and development were their major concerns.