Do Millennials Still Believe in Democracy?


DECEMBER 12, 2018

Nusa Dua. Parwiz Mosamim, a 24-year-old graduate student from Afghanistan, said democracy takes a good understanding that should extend beyond declaration.

Speaking during the second Bali Democracy Students Conference (BDSC) in Nusa Dua on Wednesday last week, Mosamim cited his country's transition to democracy in the early 2000s, which eventually led to the election of a new government in 2004, as laid out under the 2001 Bonn Agreement.

"Democracy came to Afghanistan as a new phenomenon, but unfortunately we did not know the real meaning of it," said Mosamim, who is studying public administration at Padjadjaran University in Bandung, West Java.

The last 40 years of war and conflict that engulfed his country led him to believe that real democracy can deliver and bring prosperity, as illustrated by some of the world's largest democracies, such as Indonesia and India.

"If we have democracy, we know and understand each other's rights and respect each other. We will have mutual understanding … democracy is very necessary in most countries," Mosamim said.

Meanwhile, 26-year-old Nayeem Hossain of Bangladesh spoke to the Jakarta Globe on the sidelines of the conference about the impact democracy has had on his life.

"We fought for independence, and there were so many lives sacrificed for democracy. It has really impacted my life from the moment I was born," Hossain said, referring to his country's struggle for independence from Pakistan in 1971.

Mosamim and Hossain were among the more than 130 students from 57 countries who attended this year's BDSC, which is a platform for the youth from around the world to exchange opinions on democracy and to discuss future development of this system of governance and contributions their generation can make to improve it.

Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, center, and several high-level officials attending the 2018 Bali Democracy Forum pose for a group photo with participants in the second Bali Democracy Students Conference on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Participating in Democracy

Hannah Brimstone, a 24-year-old Australian, said learning about the experiences of others during the conference gave her a better understanding of the importance of democracy and youth participation.

"I think for Australians, it's very easy to take democracy for granted and as a result of that, we see a lot of disengagement from the youth," Brimstone said.

She told the Jakarta Globe that she plans on taking what she has learned and share the passion for democracy that she witnessed during the conference with her friends and members of her community at home.

Similarly, 22-year-old Anisa Fauziah, who is studying law at Padjadjaran University, said she was inspired to use social media to attract more people to participate in democracy.

"Right now, I see many young people who are not involved in politics. They don't really know what's happening around the world; they don't really participate actively, so [I want to] raise awareness by posting on Instagram or other social media [platforms]," Anisa said. She added that she planned to vote in next year's presidential and legislative elections.

In her keynote address during the 2018 Bali Democracy Forum (BDF), which took place in parallel with this week's students' conference, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi stressed the importance of empowering the millennial generation.

"Our millennials' technological savviness and exposure to social media create new opportunities in achieving inclusive democracy," Retno said.

As members of this generation, those who participated in the BDSC displayed strong beliefs in the values of democracy, despite witnessing the declining of the concept in many parts of the world.

They were keen to incorporate technology to facilitate the development of democracy and ways to tackle issues such as rising intolerance.

As part of the conference's outcome, which was delivered during the closing session of the BDF, it was suggested that students be included in practical discussions with government representatives next year.

Faith Fore of Zimbabwe delivers the outcome of the second Bali Democracy Students Conference on Friday. (Photo courtesy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

"I truly believe democracy can deliver prosperity for every country in the world," said Lucky Christ Nugroho, 21, who studies economics at Gadjah Mada University (UGM) in Yogyakarta.

He said democracy provides space for freedom of speech, which allows citizens to express their discontent and demand that a government does better.

Lucky said the conference gave him a newfound understanding of the diverse nature of democracy.

Government officials, representatives of civil society and students who participated in parallel events in Bali this week all highlighted that democracy is not a one-size-fits-all solution.

Retno said democracy must be developed on homegrown values, whereas Suriname's Foreign Minister Yldiz Pollack-Beighle highlighted the need for every country to forge its own way to find the right fit for democracy.

Faith Fore, a 26-year-old woman from Zimbabwe, echoed those sentiments.

"Democracy actually depends on the nations ... we will actually have differences in defining democracy, and so it depends from which point of view you are seeing democracy," Fore said.

Meanwhile, 20-year-old Darulfa Aziza Nur Aini, who is studying public policy management at UGM, remains confident that democracy is the best system of governance.

"There is nothing better than democracy, but what we need is a better democracy, a new kind of democracy," she said.