COLA Special Lecture 2022 “Mobilizing for Elections: Patronage and Political Machines in Southeast Asia”

On Monday, June 6, 2022, COLA welcomed:

  • Edward Aspinall: Professor, Department of Political and Social Change, Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, Australian National University
  • Meredith Weiss: Professor, Political Science, and Director of Rockefeller College’s Semester in Washington Program, University of Albany (SUNY)
  • Allen Hicken: Research Professor, Center for Political Studies Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  • Paul Hutchcroft: Scholar of comparative and Southeast Asian politics, Australian National University

They discussed their soon-to-be-published book titled Mobilizing for Elections: Patronage and Political Machines in Southeast Asia

The session was opened by Dr. Grichawat Lowatcharin, Associate Dean for Academic, Research, and Global Affairs. This was followed by a welcoming address by Dean Peerasit. He especially thanked Australian National University for the research grant that enabled COLA to participate in this research project.

Dr. Grichawat then did a more in-depth introduction of each guest speaker.

Prof. Paul Hutchcroft discussed the idea of “Money Politics.”

The Goals of the project were to address:

  • What distinguishes the forms of patronage that candidates, parties, and campaigners deliver to voters and other supporters?
  • Through what sort of political networks do they distribute that patronage?
  • To what extent do specific types of political networks tend to be associated with particular forms of patronage?
  • How do these distinctive patterns of patronage politics actually work: how, and to what extent, do they influence voters?
  • What explains the patterns we observe both across and within countries?

He then discussed disentangling patronage & clientelism, which are often treated as synonymous but can be differentiated.

Patronage is a material resource, which benefits (usually from public sources) for political support or party advantage

Clientelism is a personalistic relationship of power. These can be patrons (higher social status) linked to clients (lower status); face-to-face and usually having enduring ties; and contingency and reciprocity. These relationships can vary in content, purpose, and over time. Hence patronage stresses resources and flows; clientelist stresses networks, linkages, and ties

Not all patronage involves clientelism; not all clientelism involves patronage

Research methods:

Extensive ethnographic research

  • Big teams: average of around 50 researchers in each country
  • Shadowing candidates, interviewing, observing election events
  • The four of us also traveled through each country for interviews and observation


  • National surveys (with survey experiments)
  • Local broker and voter lists surveys using vote-buying

Individual interviews and focus group discussions

Edward Aspinall discussed the contributions of their book, Mobilizing for Elections: Patronage and Political Machines in Southeast Asia

He discussed the primary methods of patronage in the three countries that had been included in the initial phase of the project:

  • Malaysia: Party machines
  • Indonesia: Ad hoc, highly personalized, temporary teams.
  • Philippines: Local machines. Built around politicians. May go several generations.

He then addressed the differences?

History and institutions are important.

  • When and how did elections/parties develop? When and how did a strong state bureaucracy develop? What are the incentives for cooperation and coordination?
  • Malaysia: bureaucracy first, then strong party captured power; strong incentives for coordination.
  • Indonesia: strong authoritarian regime built up bureaucracy; legacy still limits elected politicians’ access to resources; weak incentives for coordination.
  • Philippines: elections first, local oligarchs captured power; some incentives for coordination.

Allen Hicken discussed micro-particularism and addressed the question, “What are handouts?”

Standard view: Contingent targeting with the expectation of reciprocity.

  • Vote-buying (targeting undecided voters)
  • Turnout buying (targeting core supporters)
  • Abstention buying (targeting opponents)

Meredith Weiss then talked about macro-particularism (AKA hijacking) and the blurred line between programmatic policies and patronage.

There are three forms of hijacking (vary by degree of discretion):

  • Credit-claiming
  • Facilitation
  • Morselization

Policy possibilities

  • Electoral reform
  • Reducing vulnerability
  • Reducing discretion

This was followed by a Q&A Session by the seminar attendees.

Finally, Dean Peerasit thanked the participants for their generosity in giving their time to attend the seminar. He invited them back to do research into the Thai electoral process since they were not able to do this analysis due to the political situation in Thailand at the time of the study.

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