Gerindra party lawmaker Rahayu Saraswati, middle, and Amnesty International Indonesia executive director, Usman Hasmid, right, at Indonesian Youth Diplomacys 2017 Youth Talk on Wednesday (25/10). (Photo courtesy of @America)

Rising Identity Politics Part of Indonesia's Democratic Maturity Process: Lawmaker

BY : SHEANY

OCTOBER 26, 2017

Jakarta. According to one member of the House of Representatives, the rise of identity politics in Indonesia must be countered to preserve the country's rich diversity and warm relations between all citizens, regardless of ethnicity or religion.

Speaking at the Indonesian Youth Diplomacy’s (IYD) 2017 Youth Talk on Wednesday (25/10), Rahayu Saraswati, a lawmaker from the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), encouraged the country’s young people to employ more wisdom and look for similarities among all citizens.

"Let us all proudly declare that we will not be pitted against each other based on things that surface because of someone’s agenda and desire to win," Saras said.

Youth Talk is one of IYD’s annual events. Adopting "Politics of Identity and the Role of Social Media" as their theme this year, organizers hope to inspire Indonesian youth to embrace diversity and be more open-minded toward differences, as envisioned and declared in the 1928 Youth Pledge, or Sumpah Pemuda. The pledge is observed annually on Oct. 28th.

Identity politics and the threat it poses to Indonesia’s young democracy has been a point of concern for many, including politicians, members of the public and foreign observers.

Discrimination along the lines of religion and ethnicity have been viewed as major obstacles to Indonesia’s democratic progress, with several events this year contributing to increasing concern toward rising intolerance in the archipelago.

Identity politics played a major role in the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election, for example, which saw some members of the Muslim community mobilize in large numbers against former Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama. Ahok is now serving two years in prison after being convicted of blasphemy against Islam in May.

The topic continued to be on the fringes of Indonesian politics and society in the months following the election results, but has recently took the forefront after newly inaugurated Governor Anies Baswedan used the term "pribumi," or native people, in his first public address as leader of Jakarta.

According to Usman Hamid, Amnesty International Indonesia’s executive director, identity politics in Indonesia has been used as a tool to bring back resource distribution.

Usman added that Anies’ political statement was used in a context in which the term "pribumi" refers to a discriminated group and alluded to the economic gap between ethnicities and religions in Indonesia. He said that in such cases, identity politics can be "destructive."

Pangeran Siahaan, an anchor at local news channel Metro TV, said the Indonesian identity refers to those who embrace it and are willing to stand up for the country.

"When we differentiate on who’s Indonesian and who isn’t based on a given biological trait – whether it’s ethnicity or appearance – we betray what we believe makes us Indonesians," Pangeran said, in reference to the country’s diverse population.

He added that Indonesia must first agree that "we are all Indonesians," even in spite of political differences.

According to Budiman Sudjatmiko, who is also a member of parliament from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), said the problem should never be about any individual’s political leanings.

"It doesn’t matter if you’re a conservative or liberal […] It becomes a problem when those political beliefs are used to destroy the other," Budiman said.

The event’s speakers also touched on the role of social media in modern politics, especially as fake news continues to take a stronghold in influencing public opinion.

Pangeran and Saras both agreed that Indonesians need to change their habits and refrain from only reading clickbaits and headlines, without reading in-depth news reports.

"Today’s youth must be wise in sorting out news, because if they don’t they’ll be easily influenced. Our problem with hoaxes illustrates a problem in our education system, where we are encouraged to memorize rather than to do research," Saras said.

The Indonesian Youth Diplomacy is a Jakarta-based non-profit organization aiming to promote young Indonesian voices across international platforms and increase their capacities to take part in both national and international policy-making processes.

The Jakarta Globe is a media partner for the 2017 Youth Talk.

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