A Nation in Fragments

Patronage and Neoliberalism in Contemporary Indonesia

Author: Edward Aspinall

Abstract:

Scholars of Indonesia are still searching for ways to characterize the ordering principles of the new post-Suharto politics. In the 1950s and 1960s, Clifford Geertz's notion of aliran (stream) politics captured central features of Indonesian political life. In the 1970s and 1980s, the state took center stage, with scholars seeing the New Order state as standing above society, depoliticizing and reordering it. Since reform began in 1998, these analyses are clearly no longer adequate, but scholars have yet to find persuasive alternatives. This article offers one attempt to diagnose the fundamentals of political organization in contemporary Indonesia. It starts by emphasizing the organizational fragmentation that characterizes much contemporary political life. It seeks the origins of this fragmentation in two sources: the ubiquity of patronage distribution as a means of cementing political affiliations and the broader neoliberal model of economic, social, and cultural life in which patronage distribution is increasingly embedded. These two forces are often portrayed as being incompatible, but in practice they are frequently intertwined. This argument is first substantiated by reference to the project (Indonesian: proyek), a mechanism for distributing economic resources that is pervasive in Indonesia. The proyek formally adheres to the expectations of transparency and competition associated with neoliberalism, but is also a major source of patronage. Proyek-hunting drives much of the fragmentation in contemporary Indonesian political and social organization. The argument is then illustrated with examples drawn from four spheres: state structures, political parties, non-governmental organizations and Islamic politics.


Countries: Indonesia

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March 2013
© Jeff Kingston