Indonesian Youth Perceptions of Politics in an Era of Increasing Need of (Positive) Political Awareness

Note: This blogpost is an introduction to an upcoming survey for the purpose of analysing Indonesians’ perceptions on politics (including participation), and the respective ministers in their role in increasing political awareness.

The people’s perception of politics in Indonesia, among other things, is largely determined by the role of their community and the media; where politics has been stigmatized due to the influence and portrayal of political events and its actors. In this post, I will focus on the formation of this negative stigma; its influence towards the public opinion – mostly that of Indonesian millennials – and its importance in understanding the impacts and consequences of these sometimes flawed perceptions of political affairs portrayed by the media.

Indonesian national media coverage is largely controlled by political parties that have their own agendas and personal interests they want to push forward; due to this, the news that gets published in these sites often vary greatly, causing uncertainty and a tainted perception of the news and politics in the country. There are 2 main theoretical perspectives of perceiving politics – the realist conception that have to do with securing greed and power, and the liberalist view that links with the improvement of society through points of negotiation, discourse and civic understanding. In Indonesia, due to the competition that lies between competing parties and the ownership these parties have of the media, the portrayal of political actors – and hence the business of politics, is seen in the former, more negative light.

Indonesian citizens often get swayed by what is delivered to them through a seemingly reliable news source; with the increasing polarization of radicalistic-prone supporters of candidates and party/party members alike (i.e. presence of FPI, etc.), the most minimal efforts to widen citizenry participation and awareness may be the difference between political progression and regression. Through inviting public conversations – especially that of the youth – encouraging them to speak out about their opinions on political matters and invite greater range of opinions and perspectives – such as has been done by, a news site focusing on investigative journalism through the eyes of millennials – would greater establish the sense of greater acceptance and exposure regarding diversity of opinions, and will be able to push political conversations into a more positive and constructive light.

Being politically aware creates a heightened sense of accountability, and entrusts the individuals/citizens to be responsible of their respective communities.  Being more aware of these political issues and being open about conversations about them would allow them to be more reflective of their actions and thoughts regarding the prevalent current issues. Aside from accountability, participation also encourages and increases understanding, tolerance, and the feeling of responsibility to build and develop our society. Understanding is the basis of accepting, and with the diversity of the nation, this is more necessary than we may think.

People love talking about politics in Indonesia – asserting their opinion, at times being assumptive, but liking the drama (eventfulness) that surrounds it.  However, due to the overarching historical, religious and racial sensitivities that loom Indonesia’s political environment, current events then become snowballed and included into these sensitivities and hence become regarded as taboo and merely discussed on the surface-level. Due to the delicate topics surrounding these issues, the conversations often become one-sided and disregarding of attempts at understanding and being mindful of alternative perspectives and the situation as a whole. This plants a seed for intolerance and fanaticism.

Embracing these sensitive topics with caution would welcome conversations that encourage tolerance and invites solutionAs scholar Andreas Harsono mentioned, conflict-ridden subjects are not to be avoided but embraced to ensure understanding and a willingness to create a solution – if there is a continuous unspoken presence of old scars, new injuries that arise around it will instigate a feeling of greater severity’. With this increasing interest in political conversations, the media must be able to direct the public accordingly to avoid misleading by the deliverance of such news, which could easily affect the people’s opinions regarding the current affairs surrounding them.

Since politics is becoming increasingly issue-led, and citizen-led activism tends to be more viral and anarchic, it has a great potential to fracture further the already fragmented political landscape. Citizens favour experts whom they can relate to and understand; this may include their actions, and way of speech, where in achieving this, politicians hence conspire to diminish political workings and make too-simple the inherently complex nature of politics – hence leaving out crucial steps in understanding and accomplishing vital political tasks to build a country. In the case of Indonesia, this can be exemplified through the relatability aspect of Felix Siauw and Niluh Djelantik, among others. These two examples vary greatly in the messages they send, where the former tries to radicalize his followers through simplifying the complexities of Islamist teaching and having a hard-line puritanical position on Islamic interpretations; and the latter uses her platform of relatability and widespread influence to promote progression and speak out about political issues that require greater attention and concern – such as that of corruption, etc.

As shown in the data collected by INNOVUS & INADIS in their ‘Types of Patriotism’ infographic (published 2017/2018) the guiding principles of Indonesian youths ­are largely of humanity, and thus would be compelled to involve themselves in such activities if given the right push and right sense of direction. The implications of being politically unaware/distant in today’s wavering political era is the inability to judge politicians’ motives in an unbiased manner (unfiltered through the media) – because the media has already chosen its means at framing the event/actor as either positive or negative gestures for either their own personal benefit, or for the benefit of the nation.

In Indonesia, the presence of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (KemKOMINFO) heads the role of overseeing the media and how it delivers it respective contents. As each nation is distinct on their own, one suggestion to increase this political awareness is through the role of KemKOMINFO in increasing the familiarity of the community regarding current political-social and public affairs, possibly through greater appearances on local news sites. With the right form of (independent) media to communicate and instigate conversations, it can become a portal to collect various perceptions of one area of interest that can be shared to the wider public audience. In order to begin this route to become more politically and socially aware, one could begin with contributing and greater participating in one’s areas of interest.

Do you think the presence of KemKOMINFO would be able to direct Indonesian youth's perceptions to view politics in a better light? Also, do you think they would be able to increase the productivity of youths being active in these socio-political activities?