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Gifts and Promises: Patronage Democracy in a Decentralised Indonesia

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Can democracy exist in a social structure marred with patron-client networks? How do we define the situation in which democratic elections occur in tandem with the dyadic relations between elites and followers? "Gifts and Promises" sheds a light into the Indonesian local politics after decentralization. Despite the central state's effort towards democratization, such as sponsoring direct elections for district leaders, the local politics depicted patron-client relations between the elite candidates and the voters. Benefiting from the direct elections, the elites competed for political power in the regions by mobilizing ethno-religious sentiments and utilizing money-politics. The voters, in return, behave as clients as they seek to gain material benefits from their preferred candidates in exchange for political loyalty. However, the direct elections also created a novelty in patron-client relations: the opinion of the clients, now voters, became crucial in determining new leaders. The article reveals that, as voters, the clients had the opportunity to examine the qualities of candidates based on traditional "elite capitals". Taking the examples from three districts in North Sumatra, the article shows that the direct elections allow common people to behave as citizens (voters) and clients interchangeably. This condition propagated the system of Patronage Democracy, in which clientelistic practices exist side by side with democratization and continue to challenge the notion of Indonesian citizenship.


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