Students and Democracy in Indonesia: Twelve years after Reformasi

Twelve years ago, Indonesia student movement strived for the dissolution of New Era regime led by the authoritarian military General (late) Soeharto. The movement was called the reformasi, a movement to bring back democratic process that long banned in the largest archipelago country. Even 44 years ago, groups of students who later called batch ’66 toppled down the charismatic leader of Indonesia, the leader of revolution, President Soekarno, through street protests which criticised the Proclaimer of his lifetime presidency, close alliance with communist, and poor economic performance. Though it was the September 30, 1965 intrigue–other referred as coup–that bring Soeharto and the New Era to power, the influence of students did affect the Indonesian politics back then.

Together with political elites and the masses, students play a extra-constitutional bridging role to ensure the check and balance in the Indonesia democratic government. It was the suppression of student movement by Soeharto regime that accumulated and fought the regime back following the financial crisis o 1997 that also lead to political crisis and chaos in Jakarta and other cities in Indonesia. One lesson learn here is that never repress students from its nature political influence in Indonesian political dynamics. The masses take part in the procedural election process to legitimised the incoming government who seize power. But, so far that I am concern, history proves that it was students that stand opposite to the wrongdoings of administration.

The 1998 students movement and the reformasi have together brought a new shape of democracy in Indonesia. The last decade, Indonesia has experienced consistent path toward democratic consolidation wherein the role of parliament, which previously under effective influence of Soeharto as political patron, have improve with respect to the concept of checks and balances.

Then, however, the current polemics of Century case which introduce a publicity of parliament session, the controversy between Commission for Corruption Eradication (KPK) and the National Police, resignation of well-performed Ministry of Finance who also in the spider web of Century case, controversy of police General Susno Duadji, tax mafia, and other things have failed to invite students effective influence in politics.

Why is the students no longer politically aware and involve in Indonesian politics nowadays?

Several reasons can contribute to the leading reason why is this happening. First, it is the common sense for university students that several political parties have successfully influence students’ campus politics that endanger the independence and impartiality of students’ voice over political issue. The influence of non-independent student movement will reduce the effective positive impacts of students into nation’s politics. Second, as most of students complained about, the liberalisation of higher education has increased the cost for university students to be educated in top universities. Rationally, as the cost goes up, the logic of rational human being will then reduce the ineffective expenses that not directly related to politics. This second reason ultimately alter the attitude of students towards direct involvement in politics for their secure financial or professional career in the future. The fact that most of Indonesia university students still depend on their parents for tuition fee also increase the influence of the economic factor to the students perception and involvement in politics. Three, the way political issue and battlefield projected today as the interests-seek politicians still exist in support for the corruption practices in bureaucrats and elite politics. Fear of trapped into the vicious cycle of corrupt politics has stopped the idealist students to actually involve in it. The history prove this though the 1966 students movement and the kind of governments (and parliaments) it produces afterwards. Finally, there are more ways available for students to personally express whatever they feel and think through personal account in facebook, twitter, and other social networks. These new media for self recognition is affecting collectivism in the society today as the individuals get access to worldwide recognition just by joining these websites.

Thus, in my opinion, it is important for students to be politically aware regardless of their subject backgrounds since their independence in opinion will channelled the salient majority of opinion in the grassroots. Regarding the students involvement in political party, I think that it’s the way of manifesting freedom of expression; but it just injured the nature of impartiality of the extra-constitutional power of students movements in politics.


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