YOUNG politicians are speaking up about the age-old quandary of how first-time voters are being catered to in the upcoming 2024 general elections in Indonesia, amid mounting concerns that the country’s youth are only seen as a commodity with little regard for their actual political aspirations.
According to election data analysed by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the 17-39 age demographic is set to make up 60% of voters in the 2024 general elections – and many proponents of youth are starting to speak up about ways to improve the system.
East Java Deputy Governor Emil Dardak, who first entered politics in 2015 when he was only 31 years old as the regent of Trenggalek, East Java, shared this concern in a discussion recently hosted by the CSIS titled Democracy, the Youth and the 2024 Election.
“This is a vicious cycle, if the youth feel that the government has never paid enough attention to their concerns, they would resort to apathy and pragmatism in politics,” said Emil.
During his brief political career, Emil frequently met with disenfranchised voters who argued that no matter who was sitting in the presidential seat, things have generally stayed the same.
A young member of the United Indonesia Party’s (Perindo) central executive board, Michael Sianipar, went even further, claiming that Indonesian youth are victims of political “tokenism”.
“There’s been a tendency for political parties to create a youth forum in the name of inclusivity, that there has to be a youth spokesperson to create intimacy. But whether the youth are actually considered on substantive issues, that’s another question,” Michael said.
From his experience last year working in Youth 20 (Y20), the official youth-focused engagement group of the Group of 20 Summit, Michael countered Emil’s allegation that the country’s youth have grown apathetic.
“The problem is when youth are not given the necessary space or opportunity to voice their political aspirations,” he said.
Two decades after the Reform Era (which began with the resignation of authoritarian president Suharto on May 21, 1998), Indonesia is starting to feel the effects of a democratic process entrenched in elite politics. Instead of preparing the next generation of voters and student activists for civic participation, party politicians are accused of disenfranchising the youth.
After the student-led protests against the then-omnibus Bill on job creation in 2020, Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri famously criticised the younger generation for their activism, questioning their contributions to the nation. But protests are simply the way this generation of youth have learned to participate in democracy, said Saiful Mujani, founder of Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting. He refers to those born in 1984 or later as being part of the Reformasi (Reformation) generation.
“The younger generation might skip the polls or they don’t want to vote. But this is in line with how advanced our democracy works,” said Saiful.
Voter turnout in Indonesia’s last election reached a record high, with data from the General Election Commission (KPU) showing that around 150 million votes, representing around 80% of registered voters, were cast in the 2019 elections.
By comparison, voter turnout for presidential elections in the United States has hovered at around 60% from the 20th century onwards, according to data from the United States Elections Project. Despite high political participation in Indonesia, however, Michael took issue with the alarmingly low youth representation in politics.
“If the youth represent 60% of voters in Indonesia, how many of them actually end up sitting in the government?” he questioned. “Is it enough for the youth to simply be involved in political campaigns and campaign teams or for them to actually represent themselves in politics?”
Michael drew a comparison between Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a nation that counts 30-year-old Shamma Al Mazrui as its Minister of State for Youth Affairs. Despite being a nondemocratic state, the UAE is more than willing to elect a young person to the position, while 66-year-old Muhadjir Effendy temporarily occupies a similar position in Indonesia, after 60-year-old Youth and Sports Minister Zainudin Amali tendered his resignation recently.
The youth remain underrepresented in Indonesia’s House of Representatives, with only 15% of current sitting members aged 40 or under, according to KPU data.
PDI-P politician Eva Kusuma Sundari raised further concerns that that 15% includes young politicians who might have been helped by familial connections. Hillary Brigitta Lasut, 26, a member of the NasDem party, for instance, is a second-generation politician from North Sulawesi; her father, Elly Engelbert Lasut, is the regent of Talaud Islands, North Sulawesi, while her mother, Telly Tjangulung, was formerly the regent of South-East Minahasa, North Sulawesi.
“We first have to fix political parties’ internal mechanisms to have proper representation as specified in a democracy. […] A free fight will always benefit the [privileged],” Eva said at the discussion.
According to preliminary data from his ongoing research, CSIS political analyst Noory Okthariza said legislative elections in Indonesia still heavily favoured incumbent candidates, allowing them to get priority in the ballot while also making it harder for newcomers to break into national politics. – The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network