During two days of intense discussion in Bali on 12-13 December 2011, around 15 academics, NGO workers and policy makers sketched out the elements of a new program of research on the issue of “money politics” in Southeast Asia. The discussion was sponsored by the Centre for Democratic Institutions and the Institute for Peace and Democracy, in what the organisers hope will be the first of a series of workshops and other activities to place take over the coming years.
The planned program of research has been motivated by growing concerns about the corrosive influence that money is having on the political process throughout Southeast Asia. There is much public discussion about corruption at high levels, about vote-buying and the use of money to build political coalitions and networks. But scholars and policy makers alike lack systematic knowledge on what makes ‘money politics’ tick in the region, and on how it differs between countries and between regions within the same country.
Many questions remain unanswered: How and under what conditions do politicians try to buy votes, rather than making political programs central to their appeals to voters? Does vote buying work or are voters who are offered money or other rewards turned off by such offers? How and when do attempts to buy individuals’ votes give way to pork-barrel politics in which politicians offer targeted material rewards to groups or communities of voters? To what extent are political parties, networks and loyalties in the region built on the basis of material exchange and reward, rather than on other foundations, such as ideology? What are the sources of the funds that politicians use to build their networks and their voter bases? What sort of policy interventions can be taken to reduce or control the baleful influence of money politics?
These and similar questions were topics for the participants at the Bali workshop, who came together from Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and the United States. They explored the state of knowledge on ‘money politics’ in the region, comparing findings from academic literature , participants’ own research and the work of the survey institutes and NGOs represented at the meeting. They noted many similar patterns in the politics of brokerage and money politics across the region, but also some striking variations (such as the extent to which political parties are central to, or bypassed by, the politics of patronage). They also identified significant gaps in our knowledge base: for example, although some surveys have been conducted about vote buying in the countries of the region, survey data on the topic is far from being systematic.
Participants in the workshop also discussed the state of the academic literature on patronage and clientelism, noting that although many of the pioneering analyses of these topics were written by experts of Southeast Asia, in recent years much new innovative work has been done by scholars working in other parts of the world, especially Latin America and Africa. They discussed and compared new research methods that have been employed to tease out the mechanisms, meanings and implications of money politics (including cross national surveys, survey experiments, field experiments and network analysis) and discussed the possibility of applying or adapting some of these methods to the Southeast Asian region.
Participants agreed to make this meeting the first in a multi-year and multi-country collaborative research effort on money politics in the region. The next meeting is being planned for later in 2012. Meanwhile, participants are back at work in their home countries and institutes, designing research proposals, planning surveys and mapping out detailed country-specific research plans.