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Will Better-Informed Indonesian Youth Vote for Dynastic Politicians?

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Will Better-Informed Indonesian Youth Vote for Dynastic Politicians?

Political dynasties are prevalent in Indonesia and many new democracies, with regressive effects, but recent research finds that Indonesian university students are averse to political dynasties. Critical and well-informed youth can be agents of change in strengthening democracy.

Democracy lets people choose their political representatives and, in theory, more choice is better than less. Yet, political dynasties—the election of politicians from the same family—remain common in many democratic countries, particularly in new democracies like Indonesia. While not all political dynasties are predatory, many Indonesian political dynasties have been implicated or convicted in corruption cases. Although dynastic politics is often associated with the older generation and males, young and women politicians also play the game. Regardless of age or gender, their efforts to hold on to power can have regressive effects on democracy.

Young MPs — those who are 35 or younger — make up 9 per cent of Indonesia’s national parliament today, but account for 20 per cent of all dynastic members of parliament. The 2020 direct municipal- or district-level elections mirrored these proportions: among the winners were 19 dynastic young politicians, who comprised 23 per cent of the elected dynastic candidates. Correspondingly, half of young MPs are dynastic politicians — a substantially higher proportion compared to older age groups.

The recent involvement of Jokowi’s sons and son-in-law in the Indonesian political arena as mayors and a party chairperson has reinforced the persistence of dynastic political culture in Indonesia. In fact, the nomination of his eldest son Gibran Rakabuming Raka as a vice presidential candidate in the upcoming election — and judicial controversy that paved the way for his candidacy — are viewed as jeopardising Indonesian democracy.

Gibran’s political pedigree is obvious, but many Indonesians, particularly young and first-time voters may be unaware of the prevalence of political dynasties. Heading toward the country’s general election on 14 February, it is pertinent to ask if a candidate’s dynastic status influences political preferences – specifically among the young voters whose vote could determine the election outcome.

We conducted an online survey from June to November 2023 with 278 randomly selected Muslim youths (100 males and 178 females) from one of the largest Islamic universities in Indonesia. We divided the respondents into control and treatment groups and presented each with profiles of young election candidates. In the control group, we asked whether the respondents would vote for these candidates running for office as legislators at the regional or national level. Meanwhile, for the treatment group, we asked the same question and presented candidates with the additional conspicuous feature of familial ties to current or former political figures. We use this additional information to examine the effect of political dynasty on voter preference.

When we included information on the dynastic status of young candidates, we observed a significant decrease in the youth’s preference to vote for candidates with dynastic roots.

To be sure, this survey is not representative of Indonesian youth in general but the findings indicate interesting sentiments that might have some resonance beyond our university student sample. Our study shows that when young voters are completely unaware of candidates’ political backgrounds, they are more likely to vote for young candidates of both genders. These findings confirm other studies’ conclusion that young voters tend to support young candidates because such political representatives more closely resemble themselves. However, when we included information on the dynastic status of young candidates, we observed a significant decrease in the youth’s preference to vote for candidates with dynastic roots.

Figure 1 shows youths’ likelihood to vote for youth candidates: 72% for male candidates and 62% for female candidates. Voters tend to apply gender stereotypes when they evaluate candidates’ traits, beliefs, and issue competencies, which leads to lower preferences for female candidates. Meanwhile, the proportions of youths who are likely to vote for a dynastic youth candidate are only 22% and 21% for male and female candidates, respectively, indicating they are less likely to vote for dynastic politicians.

Figure 1. Muslim University Students’ Voting Preference by Gender and Political Dynasties

To recap, our survey found that university students are much less likely to vote for young dynastic candidates compared to similarly qualified candidates without dynastic connections. This indicates that, irrespective of gender, young people tend to disagree with dynastic politics.

The findings are not nationally representative and the sample is limited to educated youth. We do not know to what extent these results can represent youth from non-college backgrounds.  However, our findings correspond to a similar study on the Philippineswhich shows that access to information on political dynasties has potentially large effects on electoral outcomes.

People look to today’s youth as a beacon of hope who can put an end to regressive dynastic politics. In the 2024 election, the proportion of young voters — both Millennials and generation-Z — is significant, reaching 56% of the total electorate. Additionally, youths who have grown up in a democratic climate may have a strong concern for democratic processes. Therefore, critical and well-informed youth are expected to be agents of change in strengthening democracy.

Youth opposition to dynastic politics is also evident in recent university student demonstrations aimed at rejecting dynastic candidates and providing Indonesian voters with complete information to better familiarise themselves with candidates’ backgrounds in the upcoming elections. In this context, youth candidates do not always represent youth aspirations.

To make an informed decision in a democratic election, voters must critically assess candidates’ programmes and track records. However, due to a dearth of accessible and objective information in the public domain, many voters — including the youth — would make decisions based on superficial considerations, such as campaign rhetoric and political gimmicks.

Therefore, it is imperative for election stakeholders — including the General Elections Commission (KPU), the Elections Supervisory Body (Bawaslu), and civil society organisations — that are concerned with electoral integrity, to provide sufficient information on candidates’ political backgrounds. Public initiatives, such as Bijak Memilih, must be promoted and further developed.

For high-quality political education information to be widely disseminated and easily embraced among youth, election stakeholders must utilise youth-friendly media and campaign strategies. They can enlist the support of key opinion leaders in their political education campaigns. Finally, pro-democracy activists must re-endorse the anti-dynasty provision in the electoral law reform. The anti-dynastic provision is necessary due to the high association between dynastic politics, conflicts of interest, and corruption.

(02/02/2024)

Writer: Iim Halimatusa’diyah, Yoes C. Kenawas, and Fikri Fahrul Faiz

Published on https://fulcrum.sg/will-better-informed-indonesian-youth-vote-for-dynastic-politicians/