The 22 Most Important Issues Facing Indonesia in 2023

What do Indonesians really think about the current state of Indonesia and the most important issues facing the country? In stage 1 of The Citizens’ Agenda, we asked them to answer the following question:

In your opinion, what issues do you consider important to Indonesia? What do you think the candidates should be talking about as they compete for your votes in the upcoming 2024 election?

We received 1,471 responses from across Indonesia. Just as we did in 2022 in Malaysia and Singapore, we collected the responses from both New Naratif’s survey portal as well as Vase.ai to ensure that we surveyed a statistically representative sample. The responses were diverse, coming from all sides of the political spectrum.

Just as in the previous years, we have grouped the responses into 20+ broad issues. Our approach is meant to encompass as broad a spectrum of issues raised as possible. For that reason, even if only a small percentage alluded to an issue, we have tried to make sure it is addressed below. We also include various ideological viewpoints while decidedly omit particular sentiments to be ranked in Stage 2 in the interest of avoiding amplifying hateful rhetoric.

Note that Vase.ai still has its limitations based on its two gender options, although the CMIO racial categories do not apply to Indonesia. Some responses were very short (e.g., “intolerance”, “poverty”), and for these we interpret them in line with the general sense of the full set of responses. In the interest of transparency, we are making our raw and anonymised data public and invite you to analyse and interpret the data accordingly. Be warned that some responses may be offensive.


The Issues Summarised

We have summarised the issues using examples of the questions and concerns that people raised, either directly or with some paraphrasing. Here they are, in alphabetical order:

  • 🗄 BUREAUCRATIC REFORM – How should we implement bureaucratic reform? Alternatively, do we need more focus on improving bureaucratic loopholes that enable corruption? How do we demand better transparency from our representatives?
  • 🚸 CHILD PROTECTION – How can we better protect children from violence, neglect, abuse, and exploitation? What is the best way to do this in the context of domestic violence? What is the best way to do this in the context of labour laws and social services?
  • 🌏 CLIMATE CHANGE & THE ENVIRONMENT – How can we demand the government to pay more attention to climate change? How can we protect our environment from exploitative corporate practices such as mining and deforestation? How can we better protect our wildlife? How can we demand better waste management? How can we build better disaster risk reduction and mitigation? What would an ideal energy policy look like?
  • 💸 CORRUPTION – How can we eradicate corruption and practices such as nepotism? What is a suitable punishment for corruption? What does corruption look like, and who is involved in perpetuating it?
  • 📱 DIGITAL RIGHTS & FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION – How can we ensure that our privacy is protected? How do we protect our freedom of expression in the age of increasing online brigading and censorship? How do we handle the misuse of artificial intelligence in producing fake news and images? How do we navigate around the UU ITE?
  • ♿️ DISABILITY RIGHTS – How can we demand better accessibility in public infrastructure, education, and the workplace for the disabled? How can we eradicate ability-based violence and discrimination, including bullying at schools and the workplace, etc?
  • 💹 ECONOMIC GROWTH & INFLATION – Can the value of the Rupiah be strengthened? Can inflation be tamed, recession averted, national debt controlled, and the prices of essential goods kept in check? How can we continue the trend of Indonesia’s vast economic growth and ensure the welfare and prosperity for all? How can we improve the skills and quality of our workforce?
  • 🎓 EDUCATION – How do we ensure everyone across Indonesia has equal access to quality education? How can we build a better pathway between education and job opportunities? How can we make education more affordable, inclusive, and free of discrimination?
  • 💰 EQUITABLE DEVELOPMENT – How can we make economic development more equal across the country? How can small and medium enterprises survive? How can we reduce rates of unemployment and underemployment? How can we focus less on the island of Java and more on the rest of Indonesia? How can we improve sustainability in the process? Is building and moving the capital to IKN really a solution?
  • 👫 GENDER JUSTICE – What does gender equality look like? How can we advocate for better gender justice in schools, government bodies, the workplace, and other organisations? How can we eradicate gender-based violence? How should we advocate for the victims and/or survivors of gender-based violence?
  • 🏥 HEALTHCARE – How do we ensure everyone across Indonesia has equal access to quality healthcare? How can life expectancies be improved? How can we improve access to nutrition and healthcare facilities to prevent stunting? How can we demand a more responsive government when it comes to issues of public health?
  • 📜 HISTORICAL TRANSPARENCY & RECONCILIATION – How can we demand the government to open up and resolve its human rights offences from past regimes? How can we demand justice for the millions of lives lost? How can we demand the government to acknowledge and reconcile with the victims’ families?
  • INDIGENOUS CUSTOMARY LAND RIGHTS – How can we better protect our indigenous populations in their land rights and customary rights?
  • ✒️ LABOUR WELFARE – What can we do about the Omnibus Law? How can we improve minimum wages, including for temporary workers and teachers? How can we improve the quality of life for our farmers and fishers? How can we prevent job exclusion and discrimination against certain groups in the workplace?
  • ⚖️ LEGAL REFORM – How can we ensure equality in the face of the law? How can judgments actually be just and fair? How can we ensure that the legal system carries no vested interests and influences of certain groups? How do we ensure transparency and accountability for public policy processes and complaints?
  • 🇮🇩 PATRIOTISM AND NATIONALISM – What do morals and ethics look like at a national level? How can national visions and missions be achieved, as with peace and unity? Can a focus on the nation overcome divisions premised upon religion and race? Can national security be ensured?
  • POLICE & MILITARY VIOLENCE – How should we handle cases of police and military violence?
  • 🗣 POLITICAL AWARENESS & PARTICIPATION – How can we increase political awareness among the younger members of society? How can we build a better democracy and encourage public participation in all sectors of political and economic development? How can we better protect the rights of vulnerable members of the population from policies that work against them? 
  • 📢 POLITICAL FAIRNESS – How can our representatives keep to their election campaign promises? How do we make electoral political contests fair and open instead of relying on slander, negative campaigns, and black campaigns? How can election mechanisms themselves be robust and democratic?
  • 🏘 POVERTY AND PRECARITY – How can we ensure access to clean water and food for all? How can we improve social security and pensions? How can we improve job security when hiring criteria have become inaccessible for the underprivileged?
  • 🏙 PUBLIC INFRASTRUCTURE & URBAN RIGHTS – How can we demand a better public transport infrastructure and more affordable housing? How can we demand more walkable and green spaces in our cities? How do we improve air quality in our cities? What role does artificial intelligence play in improving our existing and upcoming infrastructure projects? What is the best way to handle forced evictions of vulnerable urban populations?
  • 🤝 TOLERANCE & DIVERSITY – How can we eradicate violence and discrimination based on ethnicity, race, and religion? How can we increase tolerance and ensure freedom of religious congregation and expression—and its corollary, the freedom of choice of religion? How can we better protect the rights of religious minorities? Can religious extremism be reeled in?

Preliminary Analysis

As per our Principles of Southeast Asian Democracy project, we have conducted a preliminary analysis of these issues based on how they address the four major challenges of democracy in Southeast Asia. Namely, a democracy must (1) ensure that decisions made represent all people, (2) incentivise good governance, (3) meet the needs of the people, including food, safety, and freedom from fear and hunger, and (4) be sensitive to the local historical context.

Representation of All People

Overshadowed by concerns about the economy, corruption, and climate change, comparatively little attention is being paid to Indonesia’s minorities, whether by gender and sexuality, age, ability, and otherwise. That being said, gender justice remains Indonesia’s biggest concern in the context of minority rights, especially in a broader context of institutional oppression and gender-based violence.

One response explicitly mentions the importance of trans rights as part of the struggle. Another response mentions that the issue goes hand-in-hand with children’s rights, as the abuse and exploitation of children is often part of the lack of protection for women and children in both the domestic and labour context.

Disability rights are also mentioned, sometimes in conjunction with the rights of other underrepresented groups. There are concerns regarding the normalisation of bullying in schools and in the workplace against disabled people and other groups, which point to its intersectionality with children’s rights and equal access to education.

Some responses are explicitly anti-LGBTQIA+, citing queer people as the cause of Indonesia’s moral bankruptcy. Ironically, at least a couple of these queerphobic responses explicitly discuss the need to address sexual and gender-based violence. While these make up less than one per cent of responses—a very small number compared to what queerphobic politicians and the media may have you believe—they are much more prominent when compared to other responses discussing gender. 

Many allude to the centrality of SARA-related topics (ethnicity, race, religion, and other groups), which hence suggest anxiety and insecurity, as well as the threat of violence and discrimination. Religion plays a very large role in social segregation, and some cite the fear of congregating and expressing their religious beliefs as the main cause. Here, we explicitly distinguish “tolerance” from “national unity”—after all, tolerance implies an acceptance of diversity and difference, in contrast to the myth of a unitary state.

Finally, speaking of marginalisation based on ethnicity, indigenous rights are also mentioned as a concern. Perhaps understandably, this issue is framed specifically in the context of political representation, visibility, land use rights, and customary rights, leading to an understanding of minority representation and meeting the people’s needs (see below).

Good Governance

A significant number of responses can be coded as an overall appeal to good governance as Indonesia’s primary issue. This is hardly surprising, given that it has been the centre of political promises since the Reformasi era 25 years ago. Corruption and bureaucracy frequently come up, to nobody’s surprise, and so do issues of legal reform. Notably, the salience of corruption means that a lot of emphasis was placed on the notion of punishment. In making our data publicly accessible, we stress that we do not condone the tone and extremity in some of the responses surveyed.

Responses regarding good political conduct have two major camps. Some are more concerned with fairness and transparency, reducing slander and negative and black campaigns. Others are more concerned with educating and engaging the younger members of society and encouraging public participation in general. However, neither quite speaks to the centrality of the political process itself in the public imagination: the concern with elections, political leadership, candidates, and a belief in the transformative potential of leaders. The latter suggests a shift in agency away from the people and towards their representatives, which is an ongoing sentiment that we should try to overcome.

Responses regarding the economy can also, for the most part, be split into two camps. Some are more concerned with growth, the quality and competitiveness of our workforce (“sumber daya manusia”), and Indonesia’s standing in the global economic stage. Others are more concerned about equality and sustainability, citing farming and fishing, how development needs to be decentralised away from Java, and how it’s more important to focus on unemployment and underemployment.

We have previously noted the problematic transfer of the national capital from Jakarta to Ibu Kota Nusantara (IKN). Several participants discuss this move in the context of developing the economy outside Java—i.e. decentralising development and making it more equitable—while also seeing it as a utopian solution to woes such as flooding and traffic congestion.

Meanwhile, there are other views which don’t quite fall into either camp: at least one is concerned about ethical economics (in this case, Sharia-compliant digital finance), while another appeared to give in to desperation, stating a wish to immigrate for work. Notably, some participants do discuss the economy and corruption in tandem.

Meeting the People’s Needs

Another large portion of the responses we received, unsurprisingly, has to do with various unmet needs. At New Naratif, we understand poverty in its structural sense: by precluding opportunities to some, the downstream effects include a lack of access to clean water and food, as well as a lack of job security and wages for temporary workers. Temporary teachers and employees (“guru honorer”, “pegawai honorer”) received quite a few mentions in this context.

Additionally, access to quality (and free or subsidised) education remains a big concern, along with access to quality healthcare, especially since they tie in with so many other issues.

Farmers and fishers are two other groups often mentioned as having unmet needs. One response specifically cites how supporting agriculture and aquaculture includes empowering small and medium industries. After all, farmers and fishers make up the backbone of Indonesia’s food sovereignty (“swasembada pangan”).

Another particularly significant source of anxiety, quite naturally, is climate change and environmental degradation. Even though not all participants linked both concepts explicitly, we argue that we can only talk about them in tandem. Global warming, mining, deforestation, biodiversity, waste management systems, and disaster mitigation can and should be discussed holistically.

A small number of responses also cite drug abuse and narcotics as their primary or significant source of fears. This is a contentious issue, and rather than jumping to moral judgement and increased policing of illegal substances, we think it best to group this concern under the umbrella of healthcare for all. Meanwhile, with the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic behind us, there were only two responses citing COVID-19, with more reponses citing the importance of a post-pandemic economic recovery.

Human rights (“hak asasi manusia”), as a whole, were mentioned frequently, often in the context of laws and authorities that work against vulnerable members of the population. Crucially, the maintenance of the memory of 1998’s Reformasi spirit is once cited in this context.   

Rather than to file all discussions of rights under a generalised heading, we have suggested some key subsets of this discussion. Some contextualise rights in the digital setting, citing privacy breaches, media censorship, and online brigading as their major concerns. Fake news (“hoax”) was mentioned on two occasions. The use of artificial intelligence was mentioned in another response in the context of digital rights and gender justice, as the concern was mostly in its abuse for deepfake pornography.

Historical Awareness

Finally, we wish to draw attention to a sentiment that Indonesia as a nation will not be able to achieve true democracy unless the government properly comes to terms with its past human rights abuses. Democracy does not exist in a vacuum, and to ground it in a local and historical context fitting for the country, the government must first be open and transparent about its history and make conscious efforts to reconcile with the victims’ families and the rest of its people.


By the Numbers & Other Trivia

Demographics

We received responses from 36 provinces, with Nusa Tenggara Timur and Papua being unfortunately absent. DKI Jakarta makes up 16% of responses. Together with its surrounding areas of Banten (7%) and West Java (25%), this number goes up to 48%. The island of Java (Central Java: 12%; East Java: 13%; DI Yogyakarta: 4%) makes up 77% of the responses. The total of responses outside of Java amounted to 320 responses.

Participants range from 18 to 70 years old, with 32% being in the 18-24 age range. Around 60% of participants identified as female, including the oldest. There are no significant differences in the responses between the different age groups, genders, or even geographical locations of the participants.

Issues Not, or Infrequently, Mentioned

  • The Russian invasion of Ukraine was mentioned once, and the idea of war as a national threat came up in two other responses (“war and sovereignty” and “civil war”). However, military crises in neighbouring Southeast Asian countries (e.g. Myanmar) were never mentioned, nor did the phrase “ASEAN” or “Southeast Asia” ever come up despite Indonesia’s position as the chair of ASEAN. This may indicate a relatively low awareness of the regional geopolitical situation amongst Indonesians.
  • Although tolerance and safety of diverse religious expressions became quite major concerns, only three responses explicitly mentioned the threat of terrorism in the country. This may indicate an understanding that religion-based discrimination goes far beyond terrorists and extremists.
  • While tourism became one of the larger economic talking points from the government in relation to post-pandemic recovery, it was only mentioned once in our survey, and this was in a negative light, i.e. tourism is destructive to the environment.
  • Despite the overwhelming concerns of job security and unemployment, there is little mention of AI and automation. One instance supported the use of AI for better efficiency in transportation. This indicates that Indonesians believe there are other more pressing factors diminishing job security.

Shortest & Longest Responses

Shortest response: As has been noted above, we received quite a few one-word responses. Most (e.g. “poverty”, “intolerance”, “corruption”, “justice”, “inflation”, “unemployment”, etc.) were relatively simple to categorise. However, there are several terms which we don’t quite know how to classify without further context (e.g. “discipline”, “decision”, “land”, etc.) and have been forced to exclude these. The shortest responses were three-letter answers, a tie between “SDM” (i.e. “human resources” or “workforce”) and “IKN” (i.e. Indonesia’s new capital city).

Longest response: The longest response we received consisted of 531 words. It covers four major issues: ecological justice and biodiversity loss, human rights and historical awareness, economic woes (poverty, unemployment, low wages, increasing cost of living, agrarian conflict, etc.) and corruption and bureaucracy. It was written by Putra, a writer from Palembang, and it covered the issues in a rather comprehensive manner despite the format of our survey. This was also the response that stressed the importance of historical transparency and alienation the most, and we are grateful to have received this submission.


From these 22 issues, which five would you feel need to be prioritised?

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