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 Behind New Youth Party, Ghosts of Failures Past

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BerichtOnderwerp: Behind New Youth Party, Ghosts of Failures Past   zo 5 apr 2015 - 21:33

The Jakarta Globe, Apr 05, 2015

Jakarta. When former television news presenter Grace Natalie unveiled her fledgling political party last month, she emphasized that its executive members would all be young Indonesians, building on what some have seized on as a changing of the guard in Indonesia’s ossified political scene.

It’s a noble sentiment, political analysts say, motivated in large part by the meteoric rise of Joko Widodo from small-town mayor to president of the republic — but it ignores the hard reality that political power remains concentrated in the hands of a long-entrenched and self-serving elite.

“My name is Grace and I am the chairwoman of the PSI,” the 32-year-old former TVOne presenter said last week, referring to her newly founded Indonesian Solidarity Party. “I’m a woman, young, a non-Muslim and also [ethnic] Chinese.”

It was a bold introduction and a welcome one for a political landscape devoid of new faces and ideas, says Arbi Sanit, a political analyst at the University of Indonesia.

“The youth must join politics to fix and change the old style of Indonesian politics, such as the practice of horse trading, which has been a political tradition here for years,” Arbi tells the Jakarta Globe.

“Throughout Indonesia’s political history, big movements were always started by the mobilization of the young. Who knows, perhaps the youths can also bring changes to politics today?”

Arbi says contemporary Indonesian politics has evolved to serve solely as a haven for those seeking to gain power for their own interests, without any concern for those they are supposed to serve, namely the people.

“Our politics has long been corrupted with greed for power. Everybody prioritizes their own interests, while very few display any interest in doing good for the people’s sake. Now is the time for a change and hopefully it can be brought by the youths,” Arbi says.

Yunarto Wijaya, the executive director of the think tank Charta Politika, similarly applauds the launch of the PSI, calling it an act of bravery.

“This is a new breakthrough in Indonesia’s party system. Founding a new party, amid the dominion of the political oligarchy, requires great bravery,” he says.

He argues that parties founded by young people have a better chance of snaring the youth vote — which is last year’s elections accounted for four in every 10 votes.

Aleksius Jemadu, a political scientist at Pelita Harapan University, says a new party like the PSI is always welcome, as long as it can convince the people to abandon the more traditional politics practiced by established parties. He says young politicians must revive the idealism and ideology of their predecessors.

“They must strive for change, they must continue the legacy left behind by [youth who were instrumental in] the 1998 reform, so that this country can continue to transform for good — be it in the social, economic, human rights or political aspects,” Aleksius says

But whatever hope for change a party like the PSI promises must be tempered by the reality that it needs the patronage of the old guard to even get a foot in the door, Arbi says.

Grace herself, in announcing her new party, cited the support of Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah — Indonesia’s biggest Islamic organizations, which, though avowedly apolitical, are nevertheless hugely influential at the ballot box and the springboard into politics for many of today’s national-level players.

If it fails in its lofty goal of attracting the brightest of the country’s youths into its folds, it will be seen at best as no different from the other parties, and at worst as less credible than the others, given its lack of experience, Arbi says.

“It will become simply an object of amusement,” he adds.

He says that even if it exhibits the fighting spirit to bring change to Indonesia’s politics, it still needs an ideology that it can strongly and transparently align with.

“If they have that, the youth can fix our politics by implementing ethics in politics, ensuring fair representation based on region and gender,” he says.

Arbi notes that this is not the first time a political party has been established in Indonesia with the promise of a younger generation of idealists as its main selling point.

In 1996, the People’s Democratic Party (PRD) was founded from the university student movement against the authoritarian New Order regime. The party was chaired by Budiman Sudjatmiko, now a politician with the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P.

At its height, the PRD won less than a tenth of a percent of votes in the 1999 legislative elections; it did not feature in last year’s polls.

Arbi says the problem with setting up a youth-based party today is that ideology is not as much of a rallying point for young Indonesians as it once was.

“Intellectually, there’s a big difference between today’s youth and those in the past. In the past, Indonesia’s youth weren’t materialistic. The middle-class youth used to be idealistic, with a clear ideology. They had something to fight against, which was the New Order regime,” Arbi says.

“Today’s middle-class youth have money and are business players. They have a different lifestyle; a metropolitan lifestyle that’s led to them losing their appetite for reform.

“They tend to enjoy the luxury lifestyle that’s been given them, without being aware of the growing socioeconomic gap in the country.

“This is why former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono survived his 10 years in the presidency — the youth were asleep.”

Graveyard of ideals

Yudhoyono’s political vehicle, the Democratic Party, was, like the PSI, an upstart that promised change through political regeneration.

Among its brightest members were Anas Urbaningrum, who served on the committee that drafted the first post-New Order political reforms in 1998, and Andi Mallarangeng, a former poll commissioner who oversaw the first free legislative ballot in 1999.

Both Anas and Andi are now in prison for corruption. Their party, whose antigraft rhetoric helped propel Yudhoyono to a landslide re-election win in 2009, took a drubbing in 2014 and is now widely seen as having joined the list of established parties with little concern for the public interest.

In winning the presidency last year, Joko, like Yudhoyono before him, appeared to usher in a new political era free of any ties to the New Order past.

But he only ran after getting the blessing of former president Megawati Soekarnoputri, the chairwoman of the PDI-P.

Megawati also dictated the choice of a running mate for Joko, who reportedly wanted a younger person. Instead, the PDI-P paired him with the 72-year-old Jusuf Kalla, a Golkar Party stalwart who served as vice president during Yudhoyono’s first term.

Although Megawati was once seen as a reform leader in her own right, with her party’s victory in the 1999 election marking the birth of Indonesia’s new political era — one free of the control of Suharto and his political machine — her brief presidency was marked by allegations of “legendary corruption,” according to a leaked US diplomatic cable, and her 16-year stranglehold on the PDI-P leadership has been blighted by a singular lack of political regeneration.

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