President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has appointed seven young, talented Indonesians as his expert staff members. They are creative entrepreneurs, community developers, CEOs of start-up companies and a political activist. They are considered representatives of millennials, the generation projected to compose the majority of Indonesia’s population in the next 20 years. This is, however, a new phenomenon in our politics, where a president assigns several young people as his special advisors.
Critics argue that these youth are just symbolic representatives without significant political power in influencing the government’s decisions. Furthermore, they say if the President intends to seek insight, he can just call them personally without giving them any kind of special position on the state’s payroll.
It is too naïve if we compare these young, talented people with political elites and oligarchs that have been existing for decades in this country. Except for Aminuddin Ma’ruf, a political activist and former chairman of the Indonesian Islamic Students Movement (PMII), the other six are young professionals with almost no political background at all.
However, their presence symbolizes a new emerging group and could be a stepping stone toward a new discourse on Indonesian politics. The state has recognized and accommodated the potential and roles of youth, a group that has been isolated too long from politics since the New Order.
Lately, the world has been witnessing the rise of right-wing world leaders. Likewise in Indonesia, the rise of the religious-conservative groups are frequently seen in negative terms; populism is seen as a distraction that brings back predatory elites to the ruling position.
The euphoria and praise following the appointment of Jokowi’s seven youthful staff members should be seen as new motivation for the young generation to contribute more to society and the state in general. There are many more areas that need them.
It is essential in the political constellation to keep the machine warm for the competition, especially in the era of democracy where many interests and parties have almost the same access to entering the battlefield. Thus, the seven young figures should not be left fighting alone amid oligarchs and political elites who are struggling to maintain their status quo.
This happened to President Jokowi in his first administration. Labeled as a new hope due to his non-status quo background, he failed to maintain solid civil society support. This contributed to the consolidation of new elite and eventually detached the President from his popular civilian base.
The same phenomenon should not happen to the millennials; thus accommodation of their interests is a must.
In September, massive demonstrations saw students and youths rejecting controversial legal frameworks proposed by elites. Moreover, their forms of protest were creative and considered a new effective tool in bringing public attention.
Rapid technological developments have significantly affected political discourse among the youth through podcasts, webinars, online portals and tweet-threads. Apart from politics, with more new start-up companies in the future, economic potentials should shift away from resource-rich oligarchs to progressive young entrepreneurs.
In the state apparatus, some young bureaucrats have created small discussion groups in social media, such as abdimuda_id or thinkpoliciyid in collaboration with young professionals. These are important in bringing millennial perspectives to various fields.
Now millennials are just rising, but will be shining. Keep the light sparkling, young people, and steal the stage.
Development researcher and intern at the Institute of Asian Studies, German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Hamburg.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.