Elections and the normalization of politics in Indonesia

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    Between April and September 2004, Indonesian voters went three times to the polls, first to elect members of legislative bodies, then in two rounds to elect directly a president and vice-president. There were two starkly different views on the elections. For most observers, they were a triumphant affirmation of Indonesia's reform effort; for some, however, they offered little substantive choice between candidates, and merely confirmed in power Indonesia's old political establishment. This essay suggests that both views are right. The legislative, and especially the presidential elections of 2004, were simultaneously the crowning achievement of the reformasi movement that overthrew president Suharto in 1998, as well as its ultimate frustration. Elections have been crucial for demobilizing and domesticating the political energies of the reformasi upsurge and in confirming elite dominance. The 2004 polls were an important step in a process of 'normalization' of politics, and can be viewed as marking the end of Indonesia's tumultuous political transition. They also demonstrate how closely Indonesia is aligning with the experiences of other post-authoritarian states in South East Asia, especially Thailand and the Philippines. The dominance of media, money and machine politics that characterized Indonesia's 2004 elections is typical of broader patterns of post-democratization reorganization of political power. Indonesia is broadly distinguished from these countries, however, by the continuing influence of resilient socio-cultural identities (aliran) in voting behaviour. Even here, however, there are signs that the institutionalization and normalization of electoral competition are beginning to erode aliran loyalties.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)117-156
    JournalSouth East Asia Research
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2005


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