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How prevalent is vote buying in Indonesia, and how effective is it? My PhD research deals with these two questions that have vexed scholars for the last 15 years. Using data from nationally representative surveys and experimental surveys, my study demonstrates that vote buying has become the currency of electoral mobilisation in Indonesian campaigns. However, most candidates rely on personal networks and target partisan, loyalist voters when distributing cash. I also show that offers of money ‘only’ influenced the vote choice of roughly 10 percent of the total electorate. While this effect may appear small, in Indonesia’s highly competitive electoral landscape, that 10 percent matters immensely. Across the country, the average margin of victory by which candidates defeated their co-partisans was only 1.65 percent. Most politicians, therefore, felt vote buying was decisive in determining electoral outcomes, and they pursued this electoral strategy with enthusiasm. By proposing that vote buying in Indonesia is a function of achieving narrow victory margins, my study explains how and why vote buying is so prevalent in the country. By doing so, I contribute an alternative explanation for vote buying in comparative studies of clientelism.
Burhanuddin Muhtadi is a PhD candidate under the Australia Awards Scholarship in the Department of Political and Social Change, in the Coral Bell School of Asia-Pacific Affairs, at ANU. He is a lecturer in “Election and Voting Behaviour” at State Islamic University in Jakarta. He is also an executive director of the Indikator Politik Indonesia and Director of Public Affairs at the Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI).