23 Mar Full open acces: ‘The political economy of clientelism: A comparative study of Indonesia’s patronage democracy’
Full open access article: ‘The political economy of clientelism: A comparative study of Indonesia’s patronage democracy’ in the journal Comparative Political Studies, by Ward Berenschot.
KITLV researcher Ward Berenschot has worked with 35 local Indonesian researchers to compare the character of local politics across Indonesia. The results of this project have just appeared in the renowned journal Comparative Political Studies. Through an innovative expert survey, executed in 38 districts across Indonesia, the paper studies under what conditions election campaigns are most likely to be clientelistic in character. Contrary to common perceptions, clientelistic practices are not most common in poorer districts, but rather in districts where the local economy is highly dependent on the state.
What kind of economic development curtails clientelistic politics? Most of the literature addressing this relationship focuses narrowly on vote buying, resulting in theories that emphasize the importance of declining poverty rates and a growing middle class. This article employs a combination of ethnographic fieldwork and an expert survey to engage in a first-ever, more comprehensive comparative study of within-country variation of clientelistic politics. I find a pattern that poorly matches these dominant theories: Clientelism is perceived to be less intense in rural, poverty-prone Java, while scores are high in relatively wealthy yet state-dependent provincial capitals. On the basis of these findings, I develop an alternative perspective on the relationship between economic development and clientelism. Emphasizing the importance of societal constraints, I argue that the concentration of control over economic activities fosters clientelism because it stifles the public sphere and inhibits effective scrutiny and disciplining of politico-business elites.