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Photo:Joko Widodo,” by Global Panorama licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. Hue is modified from the original.

Margiansyah, Defbry. “Populism and Crisis in Indonesia: Politicization of Economy, Identity, and Personalistic Leadership.” In 7th International Conference on Social and Political Sciences (ICoSaPS 2022), pp. 182-191. Atlantis Press, 2022.


While the COVID-19 pandemic plunged Indonesia’s economy into its worst recession in the post-1998 Asian financial crisis, the health crisis forced the government to accelerate national economic recovery by initiating contradictory policies and problematic law, the omnibus law on job creation. These efforts boost investment, national competitiveness, and economic growth amid the pandemic. However, the government’s efforts have led to the deterioration of democracy and democratic accountability fueled by technocratic-populist rhetoric and authoritarian measures that repress activists, civil societies, and dissenters toward state policies. Politicizing crisis for the state’s agenda is not unique in Indonesian politics. The ruling governments tended to exploit hyper-nationalist narratives, religion-ideological divide, and pro-people rhetoric in legitimizing undemocratic policies. This article seeks to explain how populism is being exploited to use crises to gain political prominence or dominance in Indonesia. It elaborates on a series of economic shocks in Indonesian history from post-independence to democratic regimes in understanding the pattern and role of populist politics in the crises. By adopting the populist-crisis linkage and populist cycles theory as analytical frameworks, this article argues that strong and charismatic leaders politicize crises to gain mass support or votes for state-centric populist agendas. It is by adjusting anti-democratic politics to popular demands for alternative political change. Populist actors reproduce the politicization of three key domains, namely economic recession, identity-based polarization, and personalistic leadership. It is to match social-economic grievances and distrust of people in established elite and formal institutions. The politicization is strategically aimed to promote the political relevance of populist leaders in times of crisis.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.