Renegotiating Precarious Young Voters’ Position Toward the 2024 Election


Illustration. Photo: Raisan Al Farisi/ANTARA

Due to the youths’ dominant percentage in the 2024 general election, political parties seem to put their votes on a pedestal. Reaching almost 60% of the voters’ population is an absolute temptation for players to win their election game. However, political parties seek young voters’ attention with mere gimmicks, like “riding the wave” by making TikTok dance videos that clearly have zero substance. This pragmatic effort implies that they only sniff around for that big chunk of the young voters’ population without considering the voters’ genuine concern. It turns out that by the time the candidates secure their spots, they discarded their attention against these young people’s concerns. In this case, the election has only become procedural momentum for perpetuating elite circulation without signifying any meaningful impact on the public, particularly the youth. 

Undeniably, efforts still exist to address youth issues on a more substantive side. However, these attempts tend to have a strong partiality towards the urban middle class, who have more privileges to access resources (Naafs & White, 2012). Furthermore, they tend to formulate policies in a top-down manner. Due to these circumstances, young people in a precarious situation cannot see their concerns being addressed.

Indonesia’s demographic bonus: Potential problems

From today until 2045, Indonesia will be at the “window of opportunity” stage. This demographic bonus phenomenon can certainly be an opportunity to optimize economic growth and people’s welfare by maximizing the workforce of citizens whose productivity is at its peak. However, the demographic bonus also has a very threatening risk when poorly managed. The most threatening risks are poor labor competence, negative effects of migration, mismatch between Indonesia’s education and employment system, high unemployment, high rate of informality & consequently low enrollment of precarious workers in the pension fund scheme. When talking about young voters, the majority of political parties focus mainly on urban youth issues with high potential for virality without actually addressing real threats to youth, especially rural youth with low socioeconomic status.

Opening up as many job opportunities as possible by developing various sustainable industries is of course one of the most important solutions for young people, both those with high and low socioeconomic status, who live in urban and rural areas. However, for rural youth, poor labor competence is a major problem yet rarely addressed. Poor labor competence is caused by two things: 1) the uneven quality of primary education in Indonesia, even though the coverage is almost universal; 2) Indonesia’s inability to provide reskilling and upskilling programs that are right on target.

All youths are equal, but some are more equal than others

Rural youth, especially those living close to agricultural areas, will also increasingly be faced with the potential for extreme poverty associated with loss of land. Currently, the number of people working in the agricultural sector reaches 28.6% of the entire population of Indonesia. In fact, due to urbanization, agricultural land in Indonesia is getting smaller and this has turned many Indonesian farmers into farm labourers. Indonesia is also experiencing an oversupply of agricultural workers, where almost 30% of Indonesian workers are competing over the same industry, agriculture, which only contributes as much as 12.9% to GDP. 

To balance this inequality, more than half of today’s agricultural workers must be skilled and facilitated to shift to work in non-agricultural sectors. Therefore, the most appropriate main response for rural youth with low socioeconomic status should be to improve the access, design, implementation, and quality of reskilling & upskilling programs that are right on target. In addition, ensuring the integration of good, comprehensive and actual migration data to make it easier for the government to reach migrants who need to take part in reskilling and/or upskilling programs is also important. Finally, when migrating to cities, the government also has to ensure that the young migrants are able to access decent housing with proper sanitation systems and access to public transportation.

If the steps above fail to be carried out, the next threat to youth will be the high number of informal workers. Informal employment does not have to be a negative phenomenon as long as the enrollment of gig workers, especially the poorer ones, in pension fund schemes and other social protection policies is guaranteed. Unfortunately, enrollment of Indonesia’s gig workers in the social protection system is still very low, whereas, the OECD (2019) recorded a very strong correlation between Indonesia’s informal workers and the country’s poverty rate. Informality and poverty are closely correlated in Indonesia while informal employment remains the norm for most workers in Indonesia, despite its declining percentage between 2006 and 2016, from 68.9% to 57.6% (OECD, pg. 16).

Gig workers are unlikely to be covered by social protection, making them more prone to shocks. Worse yet, with the peak of the country’s industry 4.0 revolution estimated to occur in 2026, the massive number of layoffs of Indonesia’s menial workers will increase the number of extreme poverty and the likelihood of the displaced workers to shift from formal jobs to the gig economy. Poor, neglected, retired gig workers can be a contributor to the increase in Indonesia’s dependency ratio which will become an obstacle to the country’s economic growth in the next few decades. 

Instead of acknowledging the issues of marginalized youth, the majority of politicians running for election in the 2024 election are only occupied with urban youth issues. Of course, the issues of urban youth are no less important, but that does not mean that the interests of rural youth can be ruled out.

Election: The political contract negotiating table

At the end of the day, we must also acknowledge that elections are very transactional by nature (Margret, et al., 2015). Candidates need voters’ votes, and voters need access and resources from the elected candidates to grant their concerns. Hence, the election is the opportunity for the youths to renegotiate their position against power. By seeing elections as a chance for a transaction to happen, young voters have a high opportunity of taking advantage of their strategic position to fight for the concerns of the precarious group.

Ideally, the election can also be the event to carry out distributive politics. Susan Stokes et al. (2013) explains that positively executed distributive politics can be a strategy to make the elections accelerate the focus on the interest and aspirations of the public. In other words, the election is the momentum where agreements are made between candidates and citizens in the process of gathering issues and public aspirations. This is called a programmatic political transaction strategy or better known as a political contract. Programmatic political transaction strategies need to be encouraged to strengthen young people’s goods in the long term after the election. Therefore, it is necessary to initiate a strong bond between candidates and voters during the pre-election, election, and post-election to ensure the extent to which the list of voters’ aspirations gets implemented. This relationship has to be on the basis of policies covering programs that gravitates to resolve the problems in public. A political contract ties the candidate’s commitment to solving the problems of the citizens. In addition, this aims to minimize the formulation of policies that are out of sync with the aspirations of young voters.

Case on point: Anies Baswedan’s

One example of a successful programmatic politics is the political contract by the Urban Poor People’s Network (JRMK) with governor Anies Baswedan in the 2017 Jakarta local election (Savirani & Aspinall, 2017). JRMK started by inviting governor candidates to explore their visions and missions. Then, after Anies officially won the Pilkada, the political contract got materialized through a community action plan (CAP) program which ran under the DKI Jakarta Provincial Public Housing and Settlement Areas (DPRKP). Eventually, this contract was manifested into working programs, scoping in village land legalization, affordable housing for the poor, business permits for street vendors, and the transfer of the profession of pedicab drivers.

In the upcoming 2024 election, young people should organize themselves to nurture their bargaining power to stand up for their most crucial issues: labor competence, job opportunities, and social protection. The point is to turn potential clientelistic transactions into programmatic transactions. Candidates need support and at the same time, precarious youths need representation in the form of policies. It is time for young people to seize the election momentum to manifest change and refuse to be objectified. They also ought to be critical against opportunistic persuasions and gimmicks.

Fuadil ‘Ulum is a graduate of Political Science from the University of Indonesia and is currently a Researcher at Puskapol, he can be found on Instagram @ulumfuadil

Siti Hilya Nabila is an incoming PhD student in development studies at Sussex University, she can be found on Instagram @hilyanabila

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