in: Trends in Southeast Asia, 2016 no. 5
Decentralization reforms in Indonesia have empowered local government with substantial powers. Local politics therefore constitutes a privileged arena for the study of democratic consolidation in this country. Research on local Indonesian politics is based almost exclusively on case-study analysis and qualitative work. As a result, while we have accumulated considerable knowledge on political elites, we know little about ordinary voters. This paper analyses a rich, original dataset with survey data from the cities of Medan in North Sumatra, Samarinda in East Kalimantan, and Surabaya in East Java. These three surveys, fielded shortly after the implementation of local direct elections on 9 December 2015, offer an unprecedented opportunity to learn about how various aspects of local politics are experienced by voters. After an introduction on local direct elections and the three field sites, I focus on the main themes emerging form survey data, namely evaluation of local government, experience of electoral campaigns, and voting behaviour. Findings reveal commonalities and differences in local politics across the three cities. Voters in Medan, Samarinda and Surabaya are rather similar in their evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of local government performance, in their experience of electoral campaigns, in how they account for voting choices and evaluate candidates. However, they also differ in their satisfaction with and trust in local institutions, and in their degree of political interest, participation, and knowledge. The paper concludes with a discussion of the relevance of the finding for our understanding of Indonesian politics.