The party trying to win over Indonesia’s youth

The Indonesian Solidarity Party offers a break with the political establishment. But to secure its position as the party of the future, it must offer more than this.

Editorial

Run more like a start up from Silicon Valley than a political party, the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) is drawing support from a new generation of Indonesians. At the party’s headquarters, young staff wear jeans. They address each other informally and work on their laptops at shared workstations.

The inner workings of the PSI reflect the party’s outward image. It is a break with the old established political mechanisms. It is one of the few parties who can genuinely say it is an establishment outsider. PSI candidates did not have illustrious political careers under Suharto. It fills its boards of management with people under the age of 45.

PSI stands for anti-corruption and increased government transparency

The Indonesian Solidarity Party stands for increased political transparency. Senior party members interview members seeking nomination for parliamentary seats. Their interviews are live-streamed over the party’s social media accounts.

The party has also expressed its support for the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). Party leader Grace Natalie decries politicians for using politics to promote personal interests. She intends to change that.

It holds events to promote entrepreneurship

In December, PSI organised an event in Central Jakarta to promote entrepreneurship. The event hosted talks from several prominent digital entrepreneurs. Grace Natalie said, “we want to share knowledge not just distribute sembako [food items].”

PSI does not just preach innovation; it practices it. PSI uses a crowdfunding platform to raise money for operations. It also operates out of members’ homes to save money on operating costs. Even the vehicles it uses are often donated.

It is a movement but maybe not a fully functioning political party

There is no question that PSI is a revolutionary movement in Indonesian politics. It has grown from 23,000 members in 2014, to around 400,000 in 2018. It also has a strong social media presence. Only the ruling party and the main opposition have a larger social media following.

Source: The Interpreter

However, a strong social media following does not translate to grassroots political activism. PSI is struggling to establish branch offices at a sub-district level. Young people are far more inclined to hit a like button than get out and campaign or vote.

In 2014, less than half of Indonesian’s aged 17 to 29 voted. The University of Western Australia surveyed 253 young Indonesian voters. It found that many of them were uninterested in politics. The PSI will have to spark interest before it can gather momentum as a national political force.

It does not have a unique political ideology

The PSI has not carved out its own unique ideology. A platform of increased transparency and anti-corruption is not enough to win seats. It must offer the electorate something more.

PSI considers President Joko Widodo as an ideological father. It moulds its political stance on Widodo’s. But those who already agree with Widodo’s political ideology can vote for his party. A recent survey found that Widodo’s PDI-P party resonated better with young voters. 33% preferred the PDI-P while only 5% said they preferred the PSI.

It has also already risked undermining its core principals

The PSI appointed Sunny Tanuwidjaja as a supervisor-board member. He faced bribery accusations from his time as a special staffer for the Jakarta Governor.

Despite its name as a party of Indonesian solidarity, PSI has appeared intolerant. In Depok, West Java, PSI members supported an initiative to create an anti-LGBT team. The PSI had to apologise on behalf of the members. It vowed to improve communication between members in the future.

PSI does not yet know how to channel its social media influence

PSI supporters widely shared the slogan “smash the PKI (Indonesia Communist Party)” across social media. Religious vigilante groups picked up the phrase. They used it to legitimise and promote attacks on the Indonesian communist community.

The PSI has a powerful tool in its social media following. It has mobilised Indonesian youth across social media. However, it must ensure this tool does not become its undoing.

Strong communication across its membership will be key in avoiding incidents like these. With so many online followers it is to share a message or an idea across the membership. But If these ideas do not represent the party’s core principals, they could publicly ruin the party.

Is PSI the future?

Tech start-ups make digital marketing a priority to market their product. PSI operates like a tech start-up, but it does not have a product to sell. It is trying to sell a political brand of anti-corruption and transparency. But it has already appointed one supervisory-board member accused of corruption.

PSI will struggle to become a serious political force unless it develops a product to sell. It has to show the youth that it offers something the other parties cannot. It has to offer something more than transparency and a tough stance on corruption. It must show that it can make a brighter future for Indonesia, not just a cleaner government. This is the only way to garner interest in politics among Indonesia’s youth.

It has the marketing strategy in place. Once it develops comprehensive policies, PSI will be in an enviable position. But that will not happen until at least after next years presidential elections. The party will support Jokowi rather than attempt to field its own candidate.

The PSI has built a strong foundation. It will take a lot more work before it can mount a serious political challenge. It might have aspirations of becoming a political unicorn. But for now, PSI must overcome its first challenge; turning likes into votes.