Sat, Mar 24, 2018 - Page 9 News List

A ‘millennials party’ dares to break Indonesia’s political mold

The Indonesian Solidarity Party is offering an alternative to a crucial demographic, with people between 17 and 25 accounting for about 30 percent of the electorate

By Kanupriya Kapoor  /  Reuters, JAKARTA

In the Jakarta headquarters of the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI), workers call each other “bro” and “sis,” and their leader sets the sartorial standard with a pair of ripped jeans.

Dubbed the “millennials party,” the PSI is an upstart on the political stage of the Southeast Asian nation that hopes to tap into young voters’ contempt for the entrenched corruption and divisive identity politics of the ruling elite.

The downfall of long-serving autocrat Suharto in 1998 — amid a crisis widely blamed on a culture of nepotism and graft — brought an end to a regime of repression, but two decades later, the 190 million voters of the world’s third-largest democracy are still asked to choose from a crowd of candidates who began their political careers during that period.

Next year’s presidential election looks set to be a repeat of 2014, when Indonesian President Joko Widodo narrowly defeated Prabowo Subianto, a former armed forces general who was formerly married to a daughter of Suharto.

The PSI is one of four new parties the General Election Commission is allowing to contest next year’s legislative and presidential elections.

Two of the new parties are fronted by establishment figures.

The United Indonesia Party (Perindo) is headed by US President Donald Trump’s business partner in Indonesia, Hary Tanoeseodibjo, while the Berkaya Party is led by Suharto’s youngest son, Tommy Suharto, who advocates a return to the “New Order” values of his late father.

PSI leader Grace Natalie, a former TV journalist, believes the time has come for a new generation of politicians who would be genuinely accountable to the people.

Her party interviews members seeking nomination for a seat in parliament and live-streams the discussions on social media platforms.

Teachers, corporate lawyers, doctors and bankers are among those whose interviews have aired on Facebook and YouTube.

“No other party is offering what we are in terms of transparency,” she said at the PSI’s headquarters — referred to by party staff as “base camp” — where a wall poster urges: “Make Art, Not War.”

Natalie, a 35-year-old mother of two, set up the PSI in 2014, determined to offer an alternative for young voters.

It is a critical demographic, with people between the ages of 17 and 25 accounting for about 30 percent of the electorate.

Two-thirds of the party’s roughly 400,000 members are under 35.

The PSI relies on crowdfunding and donations to run operations across the vast archipelago of Indonesia, and to keep costs down it works from members’ houses and uses donated vehicles.

“This way, no one person can claim that they own the party. Everyone is contributing something,” said Natalie, who was educated in Jakarta and the Netherlands, and speaks proficient English.

So far, the PSI has raised 2.6 billion rupiah (US$180,000), a tiny sum compared with the coffers of mainstream parties that benefit from poor enforcement of laws limiting political donations.

It will likely also struggle to get traction with the young people it is targeting.

While the size of the youth vote has swelled from 18 percent of total voters in 2004 to 30 percent in 2014, the participation of young voters has dwindled.

Data from the elections commission showed less than half of voters between 17 and 29 cast a ballot in the 2014 legislative elections compared with about 90 percent among those over 30.

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