Opinion

The new Indonesia: 67 million
first-time voters in 2014

With so much political jockeying going on among the elites in Jakarta ahead of the 2014 presidential election, the fact that 67 million first-time voters across the archipelago will be exercising their right to vote in 2014 has been largely overlooked. These young people did not experience reformasi or life during the New Order period, and probably only generally know that a man by the name of Soeharto led the country for a long period.

These first-time voters for 2014 were only small children when the reformasi movement took place in 1998. They have grown up in a different Indonesia than those who were 12 years old in 1998, who still experienced the turbulence of that historical year.

These voters have never had to struggle for democracy and have had democracy delivered to them. They take democracy and the freedoms they enjoy today for granted. They do not realize this nor do they seem to care.

They have a different world view than the reformasi generation or the generation of democratic activists pushing for change during the last days of the Soeharto period. Their focus of life is not about democracy anymore, but equality, fair distribution of economic growth and access to the much talked about economic growth.

Statistician Kresnayana Yahya from the November 10 Institute of Technology (ITS) analyzed the 2010 census results and found out that there would be 175 million potential voters in 2014. He added that 10-12 million youths who are under 18 years of age will be married and therefore eligible to vote. This brings the total potential of eligible voters to a whopping 187 million out of the total population of 250 million Indonesians.

The fact is that these 67 million new voters, which will be approximately 35 percent of the total number of voters in 2014, will be determining the future political landscape of Indonesia through their votes. No matter what sort of political discourse is taking place today among the political elites in Jakarta, the fact remains that there will be new voters who are not listening to the current political discourse in Jakarta. These new voters have their own dreams they are chasing.

These first-time voters will be swing voters, those who will have no allegiance to any political party and whose unpredictable decisions can swing the outcome of an election one way or the other. The current political elites in Jakarta will have no pull with new voters unless the elites start developing some capability to understand and embrace this emerging group of Indonesians.

More than 10 years after the inception of regional autonomy, population growth has been a catalyst to further allow regional voices to be broadcast, and demographic factors become a vehicle for the young all over Indonesia to demand a better life.

From my conversations with many of these youths all over Indonesia, these young people want a better life than their parents’. They also want to know why between June 2010 and June 2011, the total net worth of Indonesia’s top 150 tycoons rose by nearly 75 percent to US$107.9 billion (Globe Asia June 2011) and why during this same period Indonesia’s rank in the Human Development Index by the United Nations Development Program dropped significantly from 108 in 2010 to 124 in 2011. Stagnant and poor education and health indicators contributed to this decline.

Gone are the days where communities across Indonesia lived in isolation with no access to modernization. Television has brought isolated villagers in touch with modernization and has progressively increased their expectations of what modern life in Indonesia is all about.

Never mind that these expectations are unrealistic, the fact is that these isolated villagers and the young living in these places see the wealth on their televisions. Whose wealth? It’s not important who owns the wealth; the point is that they want access to it! This is only natural human behavior.

The rate of urbanization is also on the increase. The 2010 national census found that 120 million people or 49 percent of Indonesians live in cities and this number will continue to grow with the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) estimating Indonesia will reach a 68 percent urbanization rate by 2025. This means that people, mainly young people are leaving their villages and living in cities to seek a better life.

They believe that if they want to own a cellular phone or even a motorbike, they are not going to be able to buy it by being a farmer like their parents; instead, they must go and work in the big cities where they will have easier access to cash.

Even more forceful are the expectations of the first-time voters living in urbanized areas across Indonesia. Greater Jakarta (Jakarta, Bogor, Depok, Tangerang and Bekasi), which has a population of 29 million people, has an estimated 35 percent of new voters. This means that more than 10 million new voters are currently living around the Greater Jakarta area. They don’t see wealth only on television, but see it in real life just by visiting the malls in Central Jakarta, or by merely riding public transportation and ogling the beautiful and expensive cars driving around Jakarta.

Democracy must start delivering a better quality of life for all Indonesians, not just politically but socially and economically. Otherwise these 67 million first-time voters will start searching for other alternatives to replace democracy.

The writer, a former journalist, is secretary-general for the Indonesian Community for Democracy (KID) She was a recipient of the Nieman Fellowship for Journalism at Harvard University, class 1994.

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