With corruption scandals constantly in the headlines, it's no wonder money is often assumed to be the winner in Indonesian politics. Newspapers and citizens alike decry the tactics of 'money politics' and the ill effect on Indonesia's democracy. Corruption is a very real problem in Indonesian political life. But when it comes to voting day, money is not always the winner at the ballot box.

The best-known example is the victory of Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo in the 2012 Jakarta gubernatorial election. On a reported campaign budget of Rp 16.1 billion ($1.6 million), Jokowi took 42.6% of the vote in the first round. Incumbent Fauzi Bowo's Rp 62.5 billion attempt to retain the governorship saw him receive only 34.05% of the first round vote.

A lesser known victory for low-budget campaigning in the Jakarta election was independent candidate Faisal Basri, who took fourth place in the ballot but still managed to beat Alex Noerdin of Golkar, the party of former president Suharto and one of the longest established parties in Indonesia. Faisal's team reportedly spent only Rp 5.1 billion on campaigning and came away with 4.98% of the first round vote, while Golkar injected a reported Rp 24.6 billion and received 4.67%.

These victories suggest another power at play besides financial capital: social capital.

Jokowi and Faisal invested less in big budget advertising and vote buying techniques, and more in interactive social media and face-to-face engagement with voters. Their investments in forging links with the people paid off on voting day and beyond, with Jokowi's campaign proving successful enough to propel him (almost two years later) to the top of popular polls for the presidency.

In his campaign, Faisal found a way to simultaneously raise social capital and financial capital via crowdfunding. Typically integrated with social media, crowdfunding is a method of fundraising that asks for online donations to reach a target amount within a limited timeframe. It was used to great success by US President Barack Obama in his 2008 and 2012 campaigns. Obama's experience showed that those who donated even a few dollars to the campaign would almost certainly turn up on polling day.

In social-media-obsessed Indonesia, with a population of around 240 million people, the potential of crowdfunding for political campaigns is huge. However, there are key differences between the US and Indonesia when it comes to online donations.

Less than half of Indonesia's population store their savings in a bank account, and about the same proportion live on less than $2 a day. Even with easy internet access across income groups, raising the level of funds seen in President Obama's campaign via online crowdfunding is a long way off for Indonesia.

In the meantime, fundraising in cash can gather significant amounts of money for campaigners on a budget and, just as importantly, have the effect of encouraging donations to be followed up with votes. In an interview with The Interpreter, Faisal said this tactic also represents a break from the usual political transaction in Indonesia, which involves candidates giving money and goods to voters and not the other way around.

'When I went to visit the people, they asked if I was going to give them sembako', Faisal said, referring to the local acronym for the nine daily essentials: rice, sugar, fruit and vegetables, meat, cooking oil, milk, eggs, cooking gas and salt.

'I asked them who they voted for the last time, and they couldn't remember. That's because back then, they were transactional. The candidate gave them sembako and that's all', he continued. 'So I said, “No. Why don't you give me something, and then if I win I will be the one who owes something to you?”'

US-style 'chequebook' democracy, whereby candidates and parties are heavily reliant on sponsors to fund their activities, has grown in Indonesia since 2005 when state subsidies for parties were cut, according to ANU scholar Marcus Mietzner. In his latest book, Money, Power, and Ideology, Mietzner writes that the lack of state support for parties has worsened corruption in Indonesia, as parties struggle to find the funds to back their candidates' bids for office. The solution, he says, is to reform state policy on party financing to allow parties to focus on further consolidating their links with society, rather than courting big business to fund their activities.

No matter where the money comes from, the experience of the Jakarta election shows that money is not everything in Indonesian politics. What is more important for Indonesian voters, in Jakarta at least, is the reputation of the party or candidate and whether they are attuned to the needs and aspirations of the people.

'Our democracy is increasingly maturing', Faisal said. 'And if we engage in dialogue with the people, we can actually influence them'.

Photo by Flickr user Blek