The voice of Indonesia's youth

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Over the past few weeks, many Indonesians have been mourning the outgoing parliament`s decision to pass a bill that would take away people`s right to vote in regional direct election; electing around 500 governors and city leaders all over the country. This has led to Indonesia’s return to the electoral system under dictator Suharto before the reformation of 1999, which means a grave setback for the 3rd largest democracy; often touted as a model of compatibility between Islam and democracy.

As Indonesia`s outgoing President Yudhoyono plans to challenge this bill in constitutional court, an interesting social interaction is emerging out of the political sphere. Our people have entered a new era of participatory democracy with the recently elected President Joko Widodo, a former mayor of the small town of Solo and a furniture trader who has given hope to young Indonesians.

For the first time, this August, the Indonesian populace reached the highest voting turnout for a presidential election with 70.59% out of 190 million voters, greater than the last two U.S. elections. This rendered a new hope for people that their voice and actions can matter in politics.

How can young people ensure their voice in government?

2014 is an important year for Indonesia, not only because of the legislative and presidential election, but also due to the huge number of young first-time voters (more than 100 million are under 30 years old). I believe, instead of waiting on the government to open doors, young people are the actors who can use popular movement to inculcate participation in politics and democracy.

Young people can organise themselves and knock on the government`s door to make sure there is youth participation in the policy-making process. Through the NGO I co-founded in 2009, Indonesian Future Leaders, I took a lead in organising Indonesian Youth Parliament 2014 which aims to reintroduce parliament and politics through platforms that are familiar to young people, becoming a channel of inspiration from the young ones to the government. It reaches out to 3,800 youth through road shows and campaign simulations in 11 cities, has 15,800 online petition signatures and elected 34 youth parliaments from each province. These young leaders channeled their declaration to the Parliament and Ministry of Youth and Sport, as well as the Ministry of Education and Culture.

Although my generation (those born during 1985-1999) was educated in a system that did not nurture critical thinking, lived under rampant corruption, with no transparency and without freedom of information (freedom of the press was enshrined in law in 1999), young people today have been more courageous than ever, speaking out with the help of media and technology, seeing the world as it is and driven to make their world better.

Hong Kong style street protests by students and youth movements in Thailand are a few other examples that epitomise young people`s hope to create a better democracy for their country. However, this is just the start of peaceful political activism for young people. Street protest, peaceful movement, intellectual discussion and debate shall continue to ensure a new era of participatory democracy that is inclusive and heard by the government.

Give our young people a space to organise themselves down the street or intellectually through public debate, because the government can`t leave it unheeded forever.