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Policy Paper Launch: 3 April 2013

Comparing Across Regions:
Parties and Political Systems in Indonesia and the Pacific Islands

Jon Fraenkel & Edward Aspinall

The six countries that CDI is mandated to focus on – Indonesia, East Timor, PNG, Solomons, Vanuatu and Fiji – straddle the border between what are conventionally seen as two distinct regions, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. In fact, there are great commonalities between politics in all these countries and the boundary between two supposedly different regions is a very recent relic of colonial mapmaking, dividing the island of Papua without any regard for historical, geographical or cultural reality. The Melanesian world is present in Indonesia and East Timor as well as in the Pacific – some Indonesians even make the claim that their country has the largest Melanesian population.

Over a number of years CDI has attempted to breach the self-constructed walls that exist in the thinking of academics (especially area specialists), policy-makers, government and non-government organisations and political parties and to foster comparative research and cooperation between Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. We have done this by bringing together political parties, parliamentarians and parliamentary staff from both regions for courses and seminars and by sponsoring research which transcends conventional boundaries.

In March 2013, CDI launched a Policy Paper by Dr Ed Aspinall of the Australian National University and Dr Jon Fraenkel of Victoria University in New Zealand, each of whom is a leading scholar on the politics of Indonesia and the South Pacific respectively. The joint paper examines contrasts and commonalities between parties and political systems in Indonesia and the Pacific, in an attempt to stimulate further inquiry and research and to foster greater intellectual interchange amongst scholars working in the two regions.

In contrast to Indonesia, politics in the Pacific Islands seems at first sight more parochial, more fluid and less party-centred. Yet although party systems play a much more robust role at the national level in Indonesia, at the local level, Indonesian politics bears some similarity to those in the Pacific, especially in Melanesia. This CDI Policy Paper seeks out patterns of similarity and difference in political competition in Indonesia and the Pacific Islands. The authors survey five major factors shaping the nature of the party systems in the two regions: 1) broad context (size, geography and economic prosperity); 2) the role of electoral systems and the rules governing parties; 3) ethnic and religious identities; 4) ideological issues or their absence; and 5) how patronage shapes political allegiances. Despite obvious differences, the authors find similar patterns of loose and fluid political party allegiances, especially at the local level.

Click on this link to access an electronic copy of Jon Fraenkel and Edward Aspinall's CDI Policy Paper:

PPS 2013/02: Comparing Across Regions: Parties and Political Systems in Indonesia and the Pacific Islands - Jon Fraenkel and Edward Aspinall



Jon Fraenkel is a Professor in Comparative Politics in the School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations at Victoria University of Wellington. He formerly worked at the Australian National University (2007-12) and the University of the South Pacific in Fiji (1995-2007). He is author of The Manipulation of Custom; from uprising to intervention in the Solomon Islands (2004) and co-edited The 2006 Military Takeover in Fiji; A coup to end all coups? (2009). His research focuses contemporary Pacific politics, electoral systems, ethnic politics, clientelism, women’s representation, and the economic history of Oceania. He has served as an international observer at elections in Fiji, Solomon Islands, and Tonga, and is The Economist’s Pacific Island correspondent.

Ed Aspinall (PhD) is a Professor and specialist on Indonesian Politics in the Department of Political and Social Change at the School of International, Political and Strategic Studies of the Australian National University. His interest in the study of politics, especially Southeast Asian politics, began when he lived in Malang, East Java, as a teenager. After studying Indonesian language and politics at high school and university, he completed his PhD in the Department of Political and Social Change in 2000 on the topic of opposition movements and democratisation in Indonesia. After that, he worked on a range of topics related to Indonesian democratisation and civil society, and especially concerning the separatist conflict in Aceh. His current research interests include ongoing research on Indonesian national politics and democratisation, as well as a comparative project on peace processes in the Asia-Pacific. He is also starting systematic research on the role of ethnicity in everyday politics in Indonesia. He teaches on ethnic conflict and internal security in Asia.

Click on this link to access all our Asia & the Pacific regional work:

CDI - Asia & the Pacific



The Australian National University

School of International, Political & Strategic Studies

The Centre for Democratic Institutions (CDI) supports the efforts of democracies in the Asia-Pacific region to strengthen their political systems. It provides training, technical assistance and peer support for parliamentarians, political party organisers and emerging leaders in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, with a particular focus on Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji. CDI sponsors research and publications on political change and democratic governance.

Established in 1998, CDI is funded by the Australian Government. The Centre is based in the College of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra.

© Centre for Democratic Institutions, The Australian National University. Please direct all comments to cdi@anu.edu.au. Last modified 28 August, 2014 CRICOSProvider Number: 00120C Web Counter



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