Seminar: New Forms of Political Activism and Electoral Campaigning in Indonesia



About the Seminar

Once regarded as inherently antagonistic arenas of contests, formal electoral politics and the political activism of social movements are now increasingly seen as closely intertwined. While in established Western democracies issue-based movements often form alliances with programmatic parties and complement the campaign efforts of these parties through informal activism, the nexus between movements and elections in new democracies is more commonly defined by personality-driven electoral movements that mobilize support for populist candidates for executive positions. In Indonesia, this trend has been evident since 2012 when Joko Widodo (Jokowi) won the Jakarta governor election on the back of an unprecedented mobilization of volunteers. In 2014, another volunteer movement emerged to mobilize support for Jokowi’s presidential campaign. Right now, volunteers are once again lining up to help Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok) in the 2017 Jakarta governor election.

This presentation analyses this new political activism in Indonesia by examining how informal, non-partisan mobilization affects the party-dominated arena of electoral politics. Building on a conceptual framework developed by McAdam and Tarrow, it puts forward three main arguments. First, volunteer activism has added a new dimension to electoral campaigning in Indonesia which is otherwise dominated by professional consultancies and the rampant use of money politics. Second, new electoral movements are posing a challenge to the supremacy of political parties in electoral contests as they not only complement but often take over important functions that are conventionally regarded as the domain of political parties. Third, the emergence of these electoral movements are both products of broader regime dynamics as well as potential determinants of the future trajectory of Indonesia’s current democratic regime. The presentation concludes with an outlook to the 2017 Jakarta election and a critical assessment of the prospects for this new kind of activism to spread to other elections.

About the Speaker

Dirk Tomsa is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics and Philosophy at La Trobe University, Melbourne, and a Visiting Senior Fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. His main research interests include Indonesian and comparative Southeast Asian politics, especially electoral and party politics. He is the author of Party Politics and Democratization in Indonesia: Golkar in the post-Suharto era (Routledge, 2008) and co-editor (with Edward Aspinall and Marcus Mietzner) of The Yudhoyono Presidency: Indonesia’s Decade of Stability and Stagnation (ISEAS, 2015).

For registration, please fill in this form and email to by 13 June 2016.


Jun 14 2016


10:30 am - 12:00 pm


ISEAS Seminar Room 2