Why Environmental Cause -not gimmicks, is the key to increase voters’ turnout among Indonesian youth

Ahead of presidential and regional elections which will be held simultaneously nationwide on 14 February 2024, various political parties are trying to appeal to Indonesian younger demographic.

Ahead of presidential and regional elections which will be held simultaneously nationwide on 14 February 2024, various political parties are trying to appeal to Indonesian younger demographic, who constitutes the majority of voters, accounting for approximately 56% of the overall electorate. Regularly, the three pairs of presidential frontrunners— Anies Baswedan and Muhaimin Iskandar, Prabowo Subianto and Gibran Rakabuming Raka, and Ganjar Pranowo and Mahfud MD— engage in competition to capture attention by making diverse campaign pledges and employ various tactics on social media platforms, known as “gimmicks”.

Unfortunately, these political gimmicks seem to only serve as the weapon of popularity instead of “encouraging programmatic debates”, especially regarding how to direct efforts in the plight of environmental degradation, which has increasingly become one of main activisms among young people worldwide. According to a survey involving 10.000 people across the globe, nearly 60% of youth and young adults expressed significant concern, categorizing themselves as very or extremely worried about climate change. Additionally, over 45% mentioned that their sentiments regarding climate change had an adverse impact on their daily life and functioning.

In Indonesia, an online survey conducted by pilahpilih.id which collected attitudes of thousands young people nationwide, revealed that 90% of respondents express their concerns about the future of environment. About 87% of surveyed young voters feel that that environmental issues were not deeply discussed in various political discussions.

On 21 January 2024, an event called Nonton Bareng (the Indonesian term for watching as a group) was organized by GenZ Memilih, Bijak Memilih and Pilahpilih.id, movements that encourages better political awareness among youth, and attended by more than five hundred young people. This fourth presidential debate, which was broadcasted live nationally, brought together 3 vice-presidential candidates to discuss environmental issues surrounding sustainable development, natural resources, energy, food, land, and indigenous communities. However, some environmentalists argued that the debate was stuck in abstract ideas and general responses without concrete action plan and timeline.

Rika Novayanti from Pilahpilih.com said that the debate about climate change was merely about providing incentives to investors, while ignoring more important issues such as energy efficiency management and participation of local communities.

In the same vein, Hurriyah, Executive Director of Political Study Centre of the University of Indonesia, stated that the discourse should have analysed land reform at the expense of environment and local people.

Therefore, Novayanti recommended that young voters should not be trapped in being fans of political gimmicks or FOMO (fear of missing out). Rather, it is essential to ensure the quality of vision and mission, as well as track records of presidential and vice-presidential candidates.

To put it another word: campaign promises about environmental initiatives may have a grain of truth in them, but these should be taken a grain of salt. It is our duty to investigate these claims through a careful vetting, so that we will cast a vote for someone who can walk the talk.

Lest we forget, it is young people—especially those from disadvantaged background—who will bear the brunt of man-made natural hazard in the long run socially, economically, and emotionally.

Socially, drought and flood caused by global warming resulting in food insecurity and depletion of resources, could increase risks of social unrest and conflicts. Most people with lack of access to resources and wealth will fight against each other over limited food and water supplies.

Economically, extreme weather harms economic growth and could push many people to unemployment and loss of income, especially in agriculture and mining industries.  Beside reducing the operation scale of these industries, in the long term, global warming will affect’s workers’ health. For seasonal labours or workers without insurance, bad health equals less take-home pay.

Emotionally, WHO  (World Health Organization) found that environmental and socioeconomic impacts of climate change threaten mental wellbeing and even could lead to suicidal behaviour.

Taking into account this “climate anxiety” justifications, Indonesian youth are becoming a power and strong voices in their own right. Many Gen Z and millennials are now engaged in what has become civil-rights struggle of our time – the fight for a more sustainable future.

“As a Gen Z, I wish that the presidential candidate and vice-presidential candidates will focus on the prevention, rather than on handling (environmental) problems. The former is better because it does not require a lot of money,” said  Chandra Iman Asrori, the founder of  Forum Kali Brantas Kediri (Kediri Brantas River Forum) aiming at reducing plastic waste polluting the river.

All in all, Valentine Day this year will be a crucial moment for Indonesian youth voters and democracy. I’d like to urge them to reflect wisely, whether signature policies of presidential frontrunners are driven by candidates’ passion, persistent and commitment in the pursuit of worthy causes or not. Bearing in mind, our social, economic, and emotional trajectories in the next five years might be determined by what names we fill out on the ballot papers.  Again, the feasible pathway and planning towards a greener development should outweigh an empty political rhetoric.

Dian Maya Safitri
Dian Maya Safitri
Dian Maya Safitri is an Inclusive Policy Enthusiast. She holds a master's degree in Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is also a member of the Economy of Francesco, the first-ever value-based economic movement chaired by Pope Francis and consisting of 2000 young policy makers, economists, and sociopreneurs from 115 countries. Her interests are social protection, disability issues, and human rights.