Seminar by Edward Aspinall. This paper extends the study of Indonesian electoral democracy to the country’s lowest level of government in the rural areas: the villages. During the authoritarian New Order period, wealthy rural elites became entrenched in power at the village level, largely by transforming themselves into clients of the state. Seeking to address how democratisa- tion has affected these rural power relations, we closely observed two village head elections in Central Java province, guided by two lines of inquiry.
First, we sought to examine the modes of campaigning employed by these candidates and what these tell us about rural elites. We found pervasive vote buying, and provide detailed evidence that such patronage politics means that only the wealthiest villagers can compete for office. However, we also show that money politics does not make these elections uncompetitive, and that villagers evaluate candidates according to a range of other criteria. Second, we examined links with higher state officials, showing that these remain important for rural elite formation, with one key to political success being elites’ ability to obtain projects for their village from higher government offices.
However, the nature of these linkages has changed. Rather than being incorporated as subordinates in a hierarchical bureaucratic structure, village elites are now akin to true rural brokers, and they have considerable leverage in their relations with higher authorities. Thus, while we find continuities in patterns of rural elite power, the modes through which that power is exercised have changed significantly.
Edward Aspinall (Australian National University, Canberra) is a specialist of the politics of Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia. His current research interests include ongoing research on Indonesian national politics and democratisa-tion, as well as a comparative project on peace processes in the Asia-Pacific.