OPINION ASIA, 11 June 2010
The victory of Anas Urbaningrum, 41, as the chairperson of PD (Democratic Party) on 23 May 2010 has been cast the victory of young politicians against their older colleagues. He is the youngest chairperson of the nine Indonesian political parties represented in the Indonesian parliament, and one of only two leaders who will be under 50 years old during the 2014 Indonesian presidential election. The other individual is Muhaimin Iskandar, 44, the chairperson of PKB (National Awakening Party).
On the other hand, five out the nine leaders will be seen as “elderly”, between the ages of 60 and 70 years in 2014: Megawati Sukarnoputri from PDI-P (Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle), Aburizal Bakrie from Golkar (Functional Group Party), Wiranto from Hanura (People’s Conscience Party), Hatta Rajasa from PAN (National Mandate Party) and Prabowo Subianto from Gerindra (Great Indonesia Movement Party). President Yudhoyono (also the founder of PD) will not look too out of place in this group. The remaining two chairpersons of the major Indonesian political parties will be between 50 and 60 years old: Suryadharma Alie from PPP (United Development Party) and Titaful Sembiring from PKS (Prosperous Justice Party).
In addition to Anas and Muhaimin, there are also an increasing number of potentially young leaders under 50 years old, likely to compete in the 2014 presidential election. At the very least, their decision to enter Indonesian politics represents an important canard to the edifice of a rapidly democratising Indonesia. Some argue that Indonesia needs young political leaders as the older ones remain ensconced within a regime of old norms and attitudes and only more youthful politicians are capable of reform. A point not missed by these observers, they recall Soekarno becoming the first president of Indonesia at the age of 44 while Mohammad Hatta, his vice president, was 43.
Nevertheless, demographically, both Soekarno and Hatta, were already “old” when they started leading Indonesia. In 1945, when they proclaimed the independence of Indonesia, the life expectancy was perhaps only around 30 years for men. On the other hand, the life expectancy is currently around 70 years and predicted to rise around 72 years in 2014.
Therefore, seen from this historic-demographic perspective, Anas and Muhaimin can be categorised as very young political leaders, still under 50 years old in 2014. Two young leaders are between 50 and 60 years old. At the same time, the elderly politicians are likely to be very active and influential in 2014 election—they are unlikely to see themselves as too old for politics!
Demographically, it will be difficult for the very young leaders to ignore or even replace the influence and reach of their predecessors. Indonesian society is ageing rapidly, because of the rapid decline of fertility rates and an increase in life expectancy. In addition, the number and percentage of older persons will continue to rise at an increasing rate. Politically, the aspirations and dreams of the population aged 50 and over will increasingly become more significant.
During the next four years, there will be an increase of about 6 million voters aged 50 and over. As an approximation, voters aged 50 and over will make up about 25% of total potential voters in 2014. If the younger political leaders do not pay attention to the need of older voters, particularly 50 years and over, they may lose a significant number of votes in the elections. Likewise, if these leaders do not accommodate the older politicians, they will face strong opposition from these elderly politicians, who remain highly influential.
Given the compromises that would likely be fought out between the young and the elderly politicians, what is likely to emerge is a union of convenience. The elderly leaders may stay behind the scenes, giving full support to younger leaders.
The young leaders are likely to be in the midst of managing their political finance. As many are professionally accomplished, their market value outside politics provides the critical opportunity to build up their personal wealth. Any dive into the political wilderness will entail a high opportunity cost for these young politicians, especially since fighting elections have become a very costly exercise in an Indonesia that has embraced consumption whole-heartedly since the days Suharto.
Critically, the elderly political leaders are likely to remain more influential than perceived. With their business and private sector careers already established, they will be busy engineering political manoeuvres in the run-up to 2014. The levers of reform are likely to be firmly in their hands for some time to come yet.
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