PSI leader Grace Natalie is in a spirited mood to punch above her weight. (Antara Photo/Andreas Fitri Atmoko)

Millennial Party on the Offensive: 'We Are Not Babes in the Woods'

MARCH 14, 2019

Jakarta. With corruption and discrimination against minority groups still rampant in Indonesia—legacies of the repressive New Order regime—the Indonesian Solidarity Party, or PSI, has called itself a new political force that is "no longer held hostage to old political interests." 

Dubbing themselves "the millennials' party," the PSI leadership is composed mostly of 20- to 30-year-olds. The party requires members of its central leadership to be below 45 years old and prohibits former members of other political parties to join.

According to the Alvara Research Center, millennials and Generation Z first-time voters—ranging from 17 to 36 years old—make up 44.6 percent of eligible voters in the 2019 elections, which is why they have also drawn the attention of established parties.

Although the number looks significant, young voters also account for the largest group of non-voters in the 2014 elections.

PSI has in recent times been on the front line of millennial-wooing compared to other parties. It has been advertising intensively, filling social media timelines with short clips and the streets with party banners, flags and posters of its leaders and legislative candidates.

But despite all the hype surrounding PSI, State University of Jakarta (UNJ) sociology lecturer Abdil Mughis Mudhoffir is less optimistic about the party's trajectory.

He suggests PSI is doomed to replicate the status quo due to its weak social base, neglect of class issues and contradictory stance.

Recent polls pointed to the party's electability at below 1 percent, far from the required 4 percent threshold to secure any seat in the House of Representatives.

The five-year-old party is currently holding a nationwide convention tour called "Festival 11" to gain recognition and raise the party’s profile, while also campaigning for incumbent president Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and his running mate Ma’ruf Amin for April’s presidential election.

Breaking With the Old

The tour took a stop in Medan, North Sumatra, on Monday (11/03), where PSI leader Grace Natalie gave a rousing speech criticising Indonesia’s political establishment.

In front of around 2,000 party members and supporters, Natalie declared that her party is not attached to either the Old Order or the New Order. Instead, she calls them "a fresh political generation" that aims to save Indonesia from "corrupt politicians and fascists."

"We entered politics with full awareness. The awareness that we, Indonesia, have a great chance of becoming a developed country, and the only way to ensure that happens is to save this country from thieves of public money and self-righteous fascists who feel they have the right to discriminate others with different beliefs," she stated.

Natalie also sent a warning to political parties who have failed to fight corruption and reluctant to speak up on sensitive issues such as religious discrimination.

"PSI will shake up the comfort zone of the established political parties. We will disrupt the long afternoon naps of politicians who only work once every five years! PSI are not babes in the woods. Grace Natalie is not just the one you see on our ads. The real Grace Natalie is the one standing here on this podium challenging all you ladies and gentlemen who have been sitting too comfortably and forgetting your political duties. To politicians of the old days, this is my message to you: enough is enough!" she declared.

She added that the next generation does not want to live in a country "where taxes are systematically stolen, people are not able to worship in peace, and bigotry can be spread openly in public."

"Fake Nationalists"

Natalie was in a similarly spirited mood when Festival 11 was held in Yogyakarta last month. She called out hypocrisies from both sides—parties in the coalition backing Jokowi for re-election as well as opposition parties—who identify as nationalists.

She was particularly upset that no one from the government spoke up when Meiliana, a 44-year-old ethnic Chinese Buddhist, was charged with blasphemy and sentenced to one and a half years in prison for mentioning to her neighbor that the azan (Muslim call to prayer) was "louder than usual." After rumors spread that a Chinese woman wanted to "ban azan," several Buddhist temples along with Meiliana's home were burned by a mob.

She also mentioned three churches in Jambi that were closed down in September last year and an incident in Medan in January when a congregation was prevented from entering their church by a mob.

"Fake nationalists are people who claim to be nationalists but took part in passing discriminative religious laws. Fake nationalists are moderates who were silent when Meiliana was persecuted. Fake nationalists stayed silent when places of worship were closed down," Natalie said.

Referring to a book called "The Politics of Shari’a Law" by political analyst Michael Buehler, she found that the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and the Golkar Party, the two ruling parties who claim themselves pluralists, were actively involved in drafting, passing and implementing 58 sharia-based bylaws throughout the country.

On top of that, the former television journalist claimed that the two biggest threats to Indonesian unity are intolerance and corruption—the two most common buzz words in PSI's rhetoric.

Reactions

Grace Natalie’s bold statements have drawn responses from members of various established parties.

Head of the Democratic Party's advocacy and legal division Ferdinand Hutahaean thinks that because PSI has no chance of getting seats in parliament, they intentionally cause controversies to be in the spotlight.

"My advice for Grace and PSI: don’t act like a child teaching ducks how to swim," Ferdinand said on Tuesday.

According to him, a party with no history and no track record like PSI should not act smug by "intruding on senior parties who have contributed a lot to the nation."

Meanwhile, Democratic Party chairman Jansen Sitindaon said that the speech should have been directed at the Jokowi administration.

"Grace may not have realized that Jokowi is the current president. The events, including the case of Meiliana in Tanjung Balai that she mentioned, happened during Jokowi's reign. So it's a slap on Jokowi," Jansen said on Wednesday.

Calling attention to the number of graft convicts arrested by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), Jansen said that most of them came from parties in the Jokowi-Ma'ruf camp, such as PDI-P and Golkar.

"It would have been better if the speech was addressed directly to President Jokowi and his coalition. So that they are aware," Jansen said.

Jansen added that Natalie’s remarks were a blow to Jokowi’s coalition, which PSI is a part of, rather than doing them any good.

"I can only laugh at Grace Natalie’s speech. PSI is becoming the 'Indonesian Sensation Party,'" Jansen said.

PDI-P chairman Hendrawan Supratikno offered a biting response to Natalie's criticism of PDI-P as one of the parties who were silent on cases of intolerance and proposed the most religion-based bylaws.

Hendrawan said PSI has merely paid lip service to their idea of tolerance and unity.

"Maybe this new party [PSI] is uninformed. In some cases, they seem provocative or overdramatic. All talk and no walk," Hendrawan said.

Responding to Natalie’s comment about nationalist parties who are still corrupt and indifferent to discrimination, Gerindra Party spokesman Andre Rosiade challenged PSI to disclose its finances instead, "How does this millennials' party have so much money? Where do they get it from? Do they have the guts to reveal who their donors are?"

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