Jokowi and the constraints on a populist presidency

Joko Widodo Photo:

Event details

PSC Seminar Series

Date & time

Tuesday 15 December 2015


PSC Reading Room, Hedley Bull Centre (130), corner of Garran Road and Liversidge Street, ANU


Liam Gammon


Allison Ley
02 612 53097

When Joko Widodo won Indonesia’s 2014 presidential election, his victory was greeted as a historic breakthrough for Indonesian democracy. Not only did he represent the first of a new generation of local politicians succeeding at the national level, but he embodied a new variant of political mobilisation. Novel in the Indonesian context, he based his campaign not on control of patronage or party machines but on a direct bond with the electorate. His strategy focused on carefully targeted redistributive policies and skilful use of the news media for self-promotion. In other words, he was a populist.

  This seminar discusses both Jokowi's electoral populism and his apparent break with populist approaches after coming to office. It tries to address a number of key questions: Why have the populist tactics which characterised Jokowi’s career in local politics and his presidential campaign not become a significant part of his presidency? Did Jokowi willingly choose not to govern as a populist, or were early ambitions in this regard thwarted by institutional or structural constraints on his power? Why did his alienation from establishment power structures not result in a president maximising his strategic autonomy, but rather prompt a very accommodative stance towards established political interests?

  Liam Gammon will present the results of twelve months’ field work in Indonesia encompassing the 2014 presidential elections, the post-election transition, and the first turbulent eight months of the Jokowi presidency. In introducing the results of his research, Liam explores the causes of the failure of Jokowi’s electoral populism to transition into a populist governing strategy.


About the Speaker

Liam Gammon is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political and Social Change at the Australian National University.



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