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For Many Young Indonesians, Not Voting Looks Appealing

2019-2-2

Indonesia is preparing for presidential elections. The voting will take place in two months.

Younger Indonesians are showing signs of dissatisfaction with the country’s political establishment. Many observers are worried that young people may choose not to vote in the April 17 elections.

Former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, widely known as Ahok, has urged his supporters to vote. His appeal appeared in a letter that was made public shortly after his release from jail. The former governor served an almost two-year prison sentence for violating the country’s blasphemy law.

Some of his supporters are dissatisfied with Indonesian President Joko Widodo, widely known as Jokowi. In his letter, Ahok urged them against golput — short for golongan putih, the Indonesian term for non-voting.

Millennial votes

It is widely believed that the word golput entered the Indonesian language in 1971, when activists protested elections during the presidency of Suharto. Voting at that time was hardly democratic. Suharto led the country from 1967 to 1998.

An estimated 58.9 million Indonesian voters did not take part in the 2014 elections. That compares with 48.3 million who did not vote in the 2009 elections. Those numbers come from The Partnership for Governance Reform and Association for Elections and Democracy.

Young Indonesians have become an important voting bloc in the 2019 elections. This can be seen in the rise of the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI), whose campaign is designed to appeal to millennials, voters under the age of 40.

Observers believe that both the campaigns of Jokowi and his opponent, Prabowo Subianto, are attempting to target younger voters. Their campaigns repeat expressions from pop culture, such as when Jokowi used the term "Winter is coming" from the television show Game of Thrones. The two candidates have also promised to defend issues of importance to millennials, such as fighting high unemployment.

FILE - A woman walks past a poster of Indonesia's presidential candidates Prabowo Subianto (L) and Joko Widodo during a debate in Jakarta June 15, 2014.
FILE - A woman walks past a poster of Indonesia's presidential candidates Prabowo Subianto (L) and Joko Widodo during a debate in Jakarta June 15, 2014.

Dissatisfaction with candidates

Similar to Indonesian politics in the past, the talk about golput in 2019 has been linked to public dissatisfaction with the presidential candidates.

Rivanlee Anandar is a researcher at the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence. The 25-year-old told VOA that he plans to vote, but he will mark ballots for both candidates. As a result, his vote will not count.

“Why both? You can interpret it however you want, either I trust in both candidates or distrust them completely. It’s more the second option, especially on human rights issues,” he said.

Nabila Ernada, age 22, expressed similar disappointment. Ernada told VOA that she plans to vote in April because it is her duty. But she added, “I don’t really believe that my vote is really making a difference towards the political scene in Indonesia.”

Similar to Ernada, Moudy Alfiana, 23, also plans on voting. “Many people believe that the candidates are the same, but if you look at their visions, there’s also differences,” Alfiana said. But she noted that election campaign promises are no more than just that -- a promise.

Being surrounded by people who don’t plan to vote, I can understand where they are coming from, she added.

Many things make people choose not to vote, notes lawyer Alghiffari Aqsa, the former director at the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute. “They may feel as if the elections don’t impact their lives or they disagree with the current political system. They may dislike the candidates or distrust the representative democratic system,” he said.

Aqsa added that although people are more open to golput as an option this year, there is still a sense of dishonor surrounding it.

“If we look at social media, there’s a lot of names that people like to call those who abstain, from bad citizens, criminals…egoists to edgy,” he said.

I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.

And I'm George Grow.

Stanley Widianto reported this story for VOANews. George Grow adapted his report for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

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Words in This Story

blasphemyn. officially confirmed as real or true

disengagev. to withdraw; to release or free from something

disenfranchisev. to remove the legal right of something, such as the right to vote

interpretv. to explain the meaning of something

visionn. the power of seeing; something seen in a dream

egoistn. a self-centered person

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