The coalitions presidents make: Presidential power and its limits in democratic Indonesia

Event details

PSC Seminar Series

Date & time

Tuesday 26 October 2021




Marcus Mietzner


Maxine McArthur

Political scientists have conventionally suggested that presidential systems operating in multi-party regimes face problems of stability and effectiveness.

In recent years, however, a new school of thought has introduced the concept of “coalitional presidentialism” to argue that presidents can achieve stability by forming post-electoral coalitions with legislative parties. The Indonesian case fits into this model, but as I will argue in this presentation, the country’s post-2004 system goes well beyond the boundaries of traditional coalitional presidentialism.

While coalitional presidentialism scholars have exclusively focused on the alliances built between presidents and parties in the legislature, Indonesian presidents have treated non-party actors as coalition partners whose status and rights are equal to those of political parties. Concretely, they have included representatives of the military, the police, the bureaucracy, local government, the oligarchy and Muslim organizations in cabinet in order to protect themselves not only from threats originating in the legislature, but from attacks by other potential veto powers as well.

Beyond cabinet representation, these non-party actors are integrated into presidential administrations through a continuous process of negotiation and re-calibration, in which the red lines (that is, non-negotiable vested interests) of both sides are defined and defended.

As a result, Indonesia’s post-2004 presidentialism has achieved a level of stability that sets it apart from many of its international peers and its own transitional experiences between 1998 and 2004. But the price paid for this stability has been high: in their endeavour to maintain the solidity of their governments, presidents have made substantial concessions to their partners that have eroded democratic quality. Ultimately, a regime emerged that maintains stability for the actors benefitting from its existence, and excludes those deemed not important enough to warrant participation.

Marcus Mietzner is Associate Professor in the Department of Political and Social Change. His research interests include the political role of the military in Indonesia; Indonesian political parties, particularly campaign financing issues; elections in Indonesia; and comparative electoral politics in Southeast Asia.

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