This article argues that, in contrast with prevalent choice-theoretic accounts of institutional origins in new democracies, the passage of Indonesia's regional autonomy laws in 1999 took place despite the interests of powerful political actors rather than because of them. Lacking the past experience to calculate retrospectively the likely electoral payoff from supporting an effort to devolve political power to Indonesia's city and regency governments, New Order–era political elites in Jakarta gambled on the advice of a team of experts. The experts assured them that supporting the effort would give them strong and salient reformist credentials on the eve of free elections. The conclusion of the article suggests that the political origins of regional autonomy in Indonesia have broad implications for the understanding of institutional genesis in new democracies, and that the potential impact of expert advisers is a fruitful focus of future research.
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