The political views of Indonesian millennials used to be limited to social media posts, but now the youth are taking charge by seeking parliament seats in their country’s upcoming election.
Univesity student Tsamara Amany Alatas is a social media star who often voices critical views on issues ranging from gender equality to religious freedom.
Now the 22-year-old has thrown her hat into the political ring, vying for a seat in the national parliament in the legislative election scheduled for April 17.
Like any media-savvy politician running for office, she has visited slums and talked with locals about their aspirations and posed for photographs with babies.
“I believe politics can be a force for good when people who are elected are good,” the 22-year-old told dpa during a recent visit to a central Jakarta slum.
Tsamara is one of the young legislative candidates fielded by the newly-established Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI), which claims to be the bearer of progressive politics in a largely conservative nation.
The party,which backs incumbent President Joko Widodo, is led by 36-year-old former television newscaster Grace Natalie, a Christian of Chinese descent in mainly-Muslim Indonesia.
The party has an uphill battle, with polls indicating it is unlikely to win more than 1 per cent of the vote, which would be short of the 4 per cent threshold required by Indonesian electoral laws to get seats in parliament.
Poll numbers, however, have not discouraged Tsamara, who has nearly 170,000 followers on Twitter.
“This party represents the values I’m fighting for and it’s where people with idealism are,” she said.
Lucius Karus, a researcher with the Indonesian People Forum for Parliament Monitoring, said that 21 per cent of candidates whose ages are known are categorized as millennials, meaning they were born after 1980.
Nearly 8,000 candidates are competing for seats in the 560-member House of Representatives.
Lucius said even though women account for 40 per cent of legislative candidates – exceeding a quota of 30 per cent set by electoral laws – it’s not likely they will be elected.
“Many young or female candidates are listed on the bottom on their parties’ lists on ballot papers, and candidates on top of the lists are usually well known and more likely to be elected,” he said.
Currently, about 20 per cent of national legislators are women.
British-educated engineer Faldo Maldini is another millennial running for a parliamentary seat.
The 28-year-old is a spokesman for opposition candidate Prabowo Subianto and is a deputy secretary general of the National Mandate Party.
“I represent the young generation, but I talk to old and young people alike about their problems,” Faldo told dpa on the sidelines of a campaign stop in a village outside Jakarta.
“You can be famous on social media but if you don’t go to your constituents, they won’t vote for you,” said Faldo, whose Twitter account has more than 88,000 followers.
Sitting cross-legged on the front porch of a villager’s house in Bogor, a city south of Jakarta, Faldo appeared at ease talking to the elderly host, who complained about unpaved and potholed roads in front of his house.
“People here complain that despite many factories around here, jobs are going to people from outside, and prices of basic commodities are expensive,” he said.
“My focus is how I can help young people here get jobs,” he added.
Faldo said he wants to prove that running for office does not have to be expensive.
“I’m not from a rich family and I just got married, so clearly I don’t have much money,” he said.
“I want everyone to have a level playing field so it’s not only people with money who can run for parliament,” he said.
Didi, a voter in Bogor, praised Faldo’s plan to promote entrepreneurship in his village.
“I make dolls and after he promoted my business on Instagram I received a lot of orders from different places,” he said.
Ari Nurcahyo, executive director at local think tank Soegeng Sarjadi Syndicate, said the fact that many young people aspire to be politicians is good for Indonesia’s future.
“They are technologically literate and highly educated. We need people like them to face the digital economy era,” he said.
“But they need a new political party that isn’t beholden to oligarchic interests and care about issues such as anti-corruption,” Ari said.
Ross Tapsell, an expert on Indonesian politics at the Australian National University (ANU), said only a small number of Indonesian millennials are middle-class and politically savvy.
A survey released last year by ANU found that fewer than 10 per cent of millennials living in Jakarta and the surrounding areas had a university degree.
“The usual depiction of a millennial is someone who is inner city, on Instagram, active about politics in social media,” Tapsell said.
“In fact that’s really only a small proportion of what a lot of people aged between 17 and 35 are actually doing in this election,” he said.