Reclaiming Oligarchy: Accountability Dynamics in Indonesia's Collusive Democracy

Crawford School of Public Policy | Arndt-Corden Department of Economics | Indonesia Project

Event details

Indonesia Study Group

Date & time

Wednesday 13 March 2013


Seminar Room B, Coombs Building, Fellows Road, ANU


Dan Slater (University of Chicago)


Indonesia Project
+61 2 6125 5954
Democratic elections cannot prevent the super-wealthy from forging cozy ties with officeholders and conspiring to defend their super-wealth. Yet this does not mean that ‘oligarchyŸ? is as globally ubiquitous or locally intractable as neo-Marxist scholars of Indonesia suggest. This essay reclaims the classical notion of oligarchy as rule by the few, and hence as antidemocratic by definition. While oligarchy can be defined in as many ways as democracy, any definition must capture two intrinsic features: its active engagement in government rule, and its normatively troubling antidemocratic character. In an explicit effort to stand on the shoulders of theoretical giants such as Machiavelli, Rousseau, and Schmitt, this essay defines and distinguishes oligarchy as a form of rule in which political elites behave as if they are primarily accountable to fellow elites, but only minimally accountable to the general citizenry. Empirically, this approach helps us gauge how substantively democratic or oligarchic a regime is upon an authoritarian collapse, and trace how shifting accountability practices can decisively alter the character of oligarchy ’ and even overturn oligarchy entirely ’ over time. This essay adopts this dynamic, accountability-centered framework to assess the contingent origins, ongoing shifts, and uncertain future of oligarchic rule in post-Suharto Indonesia.

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