A lack of employment opportunities is undermining Indonesia’s democratic gains, write Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat and Muhammad Beni Saputra.
Indonesia is bracing for simultaneous regional elections in February 2017. Several pairs of candidates have emerged, including those eyeing the coveted governor and vice governor thrones in Jakarta. These include Agus Harimurti and Sylviana Murni, Anies Baswedan and Sandiaga Uno, as well as the current governor Basuki ‘Ahok’ Tjahja Purnama with Djarot Saiful Hidayat as his deputy.
Meanwhile, over a thousand kilometres from Jakarta, an unemployed young man named Andra bikes towards Tebo, where candidate registrations are being held. He is joined by friends battling similar financial challenges who are hoping to receive a splash of money from candidates. They leave with a pack of cigarettes and a few litres of petrol.
This story is a portrait of the dysfunctional state of democracy in Indonesia’s remote areas. In various regions, the period ahead of the local election is widely seen as a golden opportunity to reap profits from candidates.
Citizens are flocking to prospective local authorities with different intrigues and motives. While some only expect a pack of cigarettes and a little gasoline, others seek to develop connections for future employment prospects. They hope that if the candidates they support win, they could be positioned in different governmental agencies under the auspices of the local government.
The driving force behind this phenomenon is the lack of employment opportunities in these remote regions, which are not able to accommodate the explosion of graduates who return home after completing their studies in the city. Consequently, each year the number of unemployed educated in Indonesia continues to climb.
The explosion of the unemployed educated is also caused by the inequality of the employment distribution in the country that is still mainly concentrated in Java and Bali. Jobs available in other regions are still limited to the informal sectors such as agriculture, plantations, as well as government institutions such as schools, hospitals, and government offices. Other sectors that are driven by the private sector as major companies are still limited to major cities such as Jakarta or Medan.
Getting closer to those in power is a logical choice for many unemployed educated hoping to secure their future. Unfortunately, this practice not only reduces the quality of the workforce because recruitment is not based on meritocracy, but, more importantly, it hurts democratic principles. Democracy itself becomes a victim to Indonesia’s unequal employment distribution problem.
The simultaneous regional elections provide many unemployed educated in the distant regions some relief. They have a chance to be employed for several months by the government to serve in the field supervisory committee (PPL), the district supervisory committee (Panwawscam), and the election supervisory committee (Panwaslu). Nonetheless, the range of salaries they earn is low, at between 600,000 rupiah to 1.5 million rupiah per month.
Furthermore, Indonesia is still burdened by the high expense of local elections. The General Elections Commission reported that between 2010 and 2014, the costs incurred to finance state elections reached 15 trillion rupiah.
The high cost of the local elections with a separate system was the main reason behind having simultaneous regional elections instead, in hopes of reducing implementation costs. Yet ironically, the simultaneous election system is costing far more than the previous election system.
It is not surprising if the urge to restore the local elections into the hands of the People’s Representative Council (DPR) continues to swell. It is important to note, given the massive practice of transactional politics between prospective regional heads and the constituents, that the solution to restore the local election back to the hands of DPR is possible.
If so, budgets for the direct election can be allocated to the creation of jobs for the unemployed educated scattered around the country. In addition, resources can also be used to help these unemployed individuals to open businesses and provide job opportunities for others — unemployed educated in Indonesia are still unable to open up businesses due to constraints in initial capital. It would be a breath of fresh air if the government is willing to lend a hand to help them.
The elections in Jakarta will remain highly scrutinised given Jakarta’s status as a political centre, and will no doubt dominate the conversation in Indonesia and further afield. At the same time, people like Andra will continue to push their motivations in remote regional elections. Their situations are drowned out by the bustle of politics in the capital.
Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat is a PhD scholar at the University of Manchester.
Muhammad Beni Saputra is a recent graduate of the University of Manchester.