Indonesia’s Middle Class

Full panel title

Indonesia’s Middle Class: A Force or Liability for Democracy?


Ulla Fionna (Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore)

Date and time

12 August, 16:00 – 17:30


Room 45


  • Middle Class Formation from the Perspective of Housing Development in Jabodetabek
    Kenichiro Arai (Kyoai Gakuen University)
  • Contesting Power from the Middle in Indonesia
    Nankyung Choi (City University of Hong Kong)
  • The Political Aspiration of Muslim Middle-Class
    Ulla Fionna (Institute of Southeast Asian Studies)
  • Mining Indonesian Tweets to Understand Perceptions of Fuel Subsidy Reform
    Lukas Schlogl (King’s College London)
  • Urban Middle Class Chinese Indonesians and Political Participation
    Charlotte Setijadi (Nanyang Technological University)

Panel abstract

There is an emerging agreement on the importance of the growing middle class in Indonesia’s institutionalising democracy. This trend is in line with existing theories on the middle class as a key agency of liberal values and democracy (e.g.: Lipset 1959). Beyond the divisive connotation of the word ‘class’ that was avoided during Suharto’s New Order (1966-1998) however, determining who belongs to this group remains a conundrum and investigating them as a political entity, problematic. Although an individual’s consumption power is the main element in their identification as part of this group, it hardly suffices in explaining the assumed political behaviour of the group as a whole.

The middle class vote was key in the 2014 election in shifting support for different presidential candidates and arguably determining the eventual winner. The various campaign tactics aimed at affecting their vote, including smear campaigns, suggest that they are a conservative political group. For a clearer understanding of Indonesian democracy today and its future, analysing the nature of the middle class as a political group is essential. Which political issues mobilise them, and to what extent they would choose to participate in politics are crucial in understanding the extent of their potential as a reliable force for Indonesian democracy.

This panel aims to put together assessments of the middle class as a political force in Indonesia. One paper being prepared will assess the nature and origins of their current political aspirations. Those interested in participating in this panel, could consider looking at their intertwined economic and political interests, their contemporary political culture, and perhaps the changing role of gender in their political expression among this class.