The Citizens’ Agenda Indonesia

In this episode, we will talk about New Naratif’s The Citizens Agenda, 22 most important issues facing Indonesia in 2023, and what we can do about it.


Oh hello, welcome to New Naratif’s Southeast Asia Dispatches. You might wonder who’s speaking, right? So the thing is, in this episode, we will have our usual host, Bonni, as the speaker, along with our Indonesia’s Country Lead, Ellena. And this is me, Daniel, New Naratif’s Video Producer. I will be the host for this particular episode.

So how do we start? Mmm, oh ok. New Naratif is a movement to democratise democracy in Southeast Asia, and this podcast is one of the ways we attempt to do just that.

So how can people who have never had the opportunity to speak directly with candidates and party leaders get their concerns on the agenda? We present to you The Citizens’ Agenda.

The Citizens’ Agenda is a space for citizens to express their concerns and increase their political participation. In general, it is a survey aimed at creating a space for citizens to express their concerns and increase their political participation. Your concerns will then be used to guide our democracy classes and media coverage to create pathways for citizens to engage in politics and help Southeast Asians Participate as citizens in their communities more easily.

In stage one, we ask people an open-ended question on what they feel are the most important issues facing their country. We then encode their answers and group them into a list of around twenty issues. In stage two, we come back to the people on our public survey and ask them to rank these issues. In stage three, we come up with various articles and explainers to really talk about these important issues and how they intersect with one another.

At the time of recording, we’ve surveyed over 1,400 respondents for Stage one, and are currently in the process of conducting Stage two of The Citizen’s Agenda Indonesia, also known as Agenda Warga. In the coming months, you’ll see a lot of explainers and articles talking about the issues that people feel are most important for the country.

So far, the issues we’ve gathered in alphabetical order are:

  1. Bureaucratic reform
  2. Child protection
  3. Climate change & the environment
  4. Corruption
  5. Digital rights & freedom of expression
  6. Disability rights
  7. Economic growth & inflation
  8. Education
  9. Equitable development
  10. Gender justice
  11. Healthcare
  12. Historical transparency & reconciliation
  13. Indigenous customary land rights
  14. Labour welfare
  15. Legal reform
  16. Patriotism and nationalism
  17. Police & military violence
  18. Political awareness & participation
  19. Political fairness
  20. Poverty and precarity
  21. Public infrastructure & urban rights
  22. Tolerance & diversity


Hello, it’s very interesting to be not host of this podcast, but I’m looking forward to the conversation.

That is Bonnibel Rambatan, Editorial Manager of New Naratif. Bonnibel Rambatan has been founding and leading content strategy for various organisations for over a decade. Having worked in fields of journalism, media analysis, and critical theory, their expertise in content production has spanned various industries: novels, film, television, comics, online videos, and podcasts

Hello, everyone!

That is Ellena Ekarahendy, Indonesia’s Country Lead of New Naratif. Ellena is a design and communications strategist who believes in good design for good deeds. Her creative practices in the last decade have been integrating analytical design thinking with social and political discourses. With expertise in design for social change, she was nominated as 2022 So(cial) Good Design Awards Winner by RGD Canada.

In this episode, we will talk about New Naratif’s The Citizens’ Agenda, 22 most important issues facing Indonesia in 2023, and what we can do about it.


What is The Citizens’ Agenda?

Ellena, for starters, could you please explain to the listeners what is The Citizen’s Agenda and what are the stories behind its founding?

All right. Hi, everyone. Citizen’s Agenda is our award-winning program that we started back in 2019 prior to the 2020 Singapore General Election. The name of the program itself is exactly what we aim to amplify. It’s the Agenda of the citizens. Because most of the time throughout Southeast Asia, politicians running the elections or the government conducting general elections, they don’t actually speak the language of the people.

In Singapore, the major political context at the time was the politics of dominance from the People’s Actions Party. We did The Citizens’ Agenda back in 2019 and did the coverage for the Singapore 2020 general election to empower citizens and bring their narrative to the political arena.

In 2022, last year, we adopted this approach to address the snap general elections in Malaysia that took place in November 2022. That we could say it was the aftermath of the political crisis that started since the Sheraton move in 2020. We witnessed the political battle between Barisan Nasional, Pakatan Harapan, and Perikatan Nasional.

It has always been the grand politics and general election has been about elitist battle and left very small room to what citizens actually need. Citizens’ Agenda is the right approach to reclaim the space for citizens, for the people really find the outlets of issues that really matter the most to them.


What you’re saying is we are trying to give a platform for the people to voice their own needs and the issues they care about, as opposed to letting politicians set the agenda first-hand, right? Can you talk a little bit about what it’s been like doing this project in Singapore and in Malaysia and maybe some of the successes we’ve had in the last few years?

In Singapore, we get some of the political parties who responded to our results. But the most significant result was not only people join the democracy classrooms that we conducted during the election, but we saw the voting switch from PAP into the opposition party in 2020 general election and it was quite big because based on the government’s own think tank, IPS survey that they conducted after the general election, they found that being politically active was actually the most crucial factor in voters to switch their vote.

In Malaysia, the coverage that we’re still doing until today enables us to create more space for the public to discuss more political aspects of daily life.


That’s cool. I think it’s really unique that we are trying to insert ourselves or not really ourselves, but provide this platform before there are any elections that tend to move in seasons and there’s a down season and up season. I think it’s very, very interesting that we’re trying to insert this conversation before the momentum takes off and so before the conversations all get taken over. I want to talk a little bit about bringing the TCA to Indonesia. Bonni, please chime in on this. What’s the timeline like? What is it like collaborating and what is it like for the people who are participating in TCA Indonesia?

Yeah, we’re trying to replicate what we did in Singapore and Malaysia, but in Indonesia, it’s a pretty unique case also because, not unique, I guess each country is unique, but it’s a bit of a different case in Indonesia since we’re not really trying to comment because we don’t have snap elections, stuff like that.

It’s pretty set in Indonesia. Bringing that to Indonesia, the timing, we could really prepare the timing a bit better, I suppose, because we are leading up to the 2024 elections in February. We know exactly when the elections are going to happen and we’re trying to bring in the conversations there. But despite that, the concerns are pretty similar.

The fact that politics, especially elections themselves, tend to be held up very highly as proof that a country is democratic. Well, that’s not essentially the case. Elections are just one of the things that are done in democracy, but elections alone are not a clear indicator that a country or a government is democratic.

We want to bring in this conversation as well to Indonesia in the sense that, hey, this is the discourse that’s happening. This is the thing that political participation goes beyond the battle box, which is something that we repeatedly say over and over and again, similar to what we did in Singapore and Malaysia, we want to get to know, “what are you actually concerned about?”

Because not only that politics has been a domain of the elite, but also it’s also been very strongly tending towards cults of personality, so to speak. The personalities tend to get highlighted more, the moralities of like, Oh, this person’s a lot more religious, or this person’s young and visionary. This person knows about businesses and the economy and stuff like that. But does that really align with the citizens’ interests?

It’s as if a lot of the time we imply that, hey, you’re living in this situation with all of the things that you’re facing, increasing living costs and whatnot and all of these things. Oh, just elect someone more religious and you’ll be fine. That’s not exactly the case. That’s what we want to build a conversation around.

What we did in the Citizen’s Agenda Indonesia or like Agenda Warga, as we call it in Bahasa, Indonesia, we tried to distribute and disseminate surveys and questions and get people to really answer. This is what we did in the previous, again, our previous Agenda Warga, previous Citizen’s Agenda surveys in other countries as well. We asked them a very open ended question like, Hey, tell us what the issues that concern you most.

We don’t give a framework, we don’t give options for stage one. We just ask a very open-ended question, and then we take the process and do analysis from there. That way,

We really want to get to know what people actually really think about the political situation in Indonesia. And also began to build up this conversation around politics outside of elections, outside of ballot boxes, outside of the realm of the elites.


That’s really cool. I want to go back to something that you touched on a little bit earlier, which is the different stages that we conduct. Can you go into a little bit about what are the different stages? How do we break down the TCA in Indonesia? And maybe also touch on a little bit about who we are collaborating with? I know that there are several publications that we are working in conjunction with to publish some of the research and our findings and also people that we’re working together with when we are doing some of these events with the people. Maybe you can talk a little bit about that.

For the Agenda Warga, it’s quite different from the previous Citizens’ Agenda in Singapore and Malaysia. In Indonesia, we decided to collaborate with a local organisation, which is the conversation in Indonesia, particularly on the launch stage when we conducted the first democratic classroom in Jakarta and most particularly on the publications part of Citizens’ Agenda.

Because after we list all the issues and have the survey and have the analysis, we want to create accessible publications where people can have better understanding about what the issues are. Also not only to see on their personal level and also to see a bigger picture of it, see the structural issues that are happening across the nation.

That’s why we are collaborating with The Conversation Indonesia along with our editorial team as well that Bonni can also give more details on that, where we try to provide people with empowering knowledge about what’s actually happening in Indonesia and to see how it’s quite related to a lot of socio-political context in the country, not only in the context of the elections, but also what has been happening in the past few years and what we can expect after the elections.

Bonnie, do you have anything you want to add to that?

No, I think in general, though, just building off of what Ellena has mentioned, we do notice a trend in The Citizens’ Agenda across various countries is that while people are aware of, I mean, obviously people are experts in their own lived experiences, but also drawing connections between these, drawing connections between what they’re experiencing on a day-to-day life and how the interests and the decisions made by the elites directly affect that.

And how the flaws are usually very, very structural in nature and how all of these various issues that may seem disparate at first may seem completely different are actually interconnected. Those are the things that we would like to highlight in our explainers.
We are usually in the previous iterations in the other countries, we reach out to and commission experts and analysts, or sometimes we just do analysis in-house ourselves. But for Indonesia. We are partnering with The Conversation Indonesia who does have a lot of expertise, a lot of network of experts, and also have a similar vision to us, hence the collaboration that we are really looking forward to in the coming months.

22 Issues in Indonesia

All right. You mentioned previously, Bonni, about how when we gather all the data, all these seemingly disconnected, disparate issues, they start to form certain patterns that probably show the different struggles that people across Southeast Asia, across borders, across nationalities all face. Could you briefly explain what these 22 issues are and what are some of the insights that we have perhaps at this moment?

I guess it’s no surprise that across the board, not only in the 22 issues in Indonesia, but also in Malaysia, in Singapore, in the previous years, everyone’s concerned about the economy and the rising cost of living. Because that’s something that’s directly affecting everyone. That’s something very palpable on a day-to-day basis.

Some people are a lot more concerned about housing and stuff or jobs and wages in Malaysia and Singapore, in Indonesia. A lot of that translates to equitable development. I think that’s one of the things that makes Indonesia unique compared to Malaysia and Singapore, obviously, because Indonesia has a much wider and much more vast population, I suppose, spread across multiple islands and multiple provinces, which we did get lots of different responses, by the way. 

Out of the 38 provinces, we got responses from 36, which is pretty nice. Unfortunately, we didn’t get one from East Nusa Tenggara and Papua, although we did get from West Nusa Tenggara and West Papua, if I’m not mistaken. But yeah, there’s a lot of concerns about equitable development. There are also, again, not so surprising, access to health care, access to education, wages, again, and then job security, those things become very prominent, very apparent in our surveys.

Surprisingly, there isn’t really, or maybe not so surprisingly, there isn’t exactly any pronouns, differences in the responses of various people in the different demographics that we interview, that we survey across all of these, across all of these provinces.

Just to give you an idea, I suppose, we did… Well, okay, most of the bulk of the responses, unfortunately, is still concentrated in Java. But we did get around out of the 1,400 or so responses, 320 are located from outside of Java. This isn’t within our control, unfortunately.

We would love to have more responses there. But the statistics and stuff like that, there hasn’t exactly been lots of responses that we received. We opened it up, we asked them, but not a lot of responses came from outside of Java. We did get responses from people as young as 18 and as old as 70 from a variety of genders as well. But yeah, I might be losing our train of thought here, train of conversation. But I guess that’s an interesting thing.

As you mentioned, all of these disparate issues in Indonesia come from various kinds of demographics, but also really tied to very strongly tied to lived experiences in terms of the economy.

Then, of course, that leads to political decisions. Although I must say that not a lot of people are aware that certain… I talked previously about making connections between the different issues that they’re actually one issue. But it’s also not less important. It’s also just as important to identify what people might be thinking of as one issue or an issue and their solution as separate issues.

For example, corruption, that’s the easiest thing. A lot of people mention corruption in conjunction with punishment. A lot of people think that the best way to solve corruption is by punishing them more severely. We got some responses that are horrifically violent in their description of what they feel the government should do to those who are corrupt. But then we have a whole culture of corruption.

What do you mean when you say corruption? We have all of these things that we need to really be careful of. Is it really the case that when we increase the punishment for corruption, then we decrease corruption? Is that really the case? Do we need to examine more of these things thoroughly?

Another example is we did get a response regarding Islamic extremism and terrorism, but then they tie that into NKRI, which is national unity. But then if you think NKRI and terrorism are really just one thing,

If everything that goes against national unity has to be terrorists, then what do you make of the people who are struggling for their own self-determination, who feel like they’ve been oppressed by the Indonesian government? Do we call them terrorists?

I mean, obviously that there has to be lots of nuances there. These are the things that we’ve observed in the first stage that we need to be a lot more analytical about, a lot more critical about. Those are, I guess, the initial findings and the uniqueness of what we found.

Elle, do you have anything you want to add?

To that? No, I think Bonni already summarised it pretty well. Although that I think the most interesting part is also the internal discussions that we’ve been having within the New Naratif team, not only the initial team, but also the entire New Naratif team.

Because at the very beginning, we were having some hesitation, Oh, should we just distribute the survey to our networks? But then we also thought that, Oh, perhaps we also need to really distribute it to a wider audience, to people who might not know New Naratif before or people who have not been part of any activism before.

That’s why we work with the survey company called—and the result was surprising in the sense that apparently that’s where we receive a lot of new ones that were somewhat quite opposite of what we believe in. It’s okay in the sense that this is actually the reality of Indonesia right now.

Democracy is quite noisy in a way that people are having very opposite political spectrum. Even though they mentioned one issue, we receive responses that are in a totally different spectrum, especially when we talk about LGBT. Some people talk about, Okay, we should fight for the rights for the queer people, for women. But at the same time, people also mentioned about LGBT as a threat to the nation. That’s part of a lot of attention that we have challenges during the analysis process of the stage one.

The same thing with nationalism and how people perceive the reality that they have in terms of the difficulty to access decent living might be tied to another part that it might be like affecting some morality or some religious threat. It’s just interesting to see how diverse the responses that we have.

Also because Indonesia is quite huge and we have a very huge demographic, our geography is quite big and culturally, we’re also quite diverse. It’s somewhat challenging to really mention that, okay, this is the national issue.

But the most issues that we receive, at least the 22 issues that we’ve received, it’s something that we somewhat have anticipated based on our observation of what has been going on on the ground and what people have been protesting about. But also, unfortunately, because we are unable to have respondents from all provinces, outreach to the eastern part of Indonesia. But somehow we also see that those issues are addressed and it’s also happening throughout the archipelago.

But this is the very first step where we can say, Okay, this is the umbrella issue about the economy, about cost of living. But hopefully in the upcoming stages, in the publications and also in the Democracy Classroom stages, we can hear more, like more detailed situations of what’s happening not only from people who are in Jakarta, but also part of Indonesia.

Also because, again, as Bonni said that the issues cannot stand alone, they are actually interconnected with each other and it might be like a multidimensional struggle for some people, for some respondents. That’s something that we want to find out and try to build conversations on in the upcoming stages of Citizen’s Agenda.

The Framework

Yeah, thanks for that, Elle. I think there was a lot of good insights there and I think, at least me personally, I do share a lot of the sentiment with decentring Java, I guess, from conversations we have about Indonesia and welcoming more diversity and more nuances from the various regions and the various marginalised groups that we have here in Indonesia. I’d like to go a little bit into what Bonni said previously about we do have a big diversity of issues with a lot of nuance. Can you talk a little bit about maybe the analytical framework that we apply when we approach these different issues? When we approach and we look at these issues, what lens are we using?

Yeah. Okay. Thank you, Daniel. I’m glad you asked this question. I guess this also follows up to what Ellena was saying about the wide spectrum of responses and especially around queer issues, LGBT issues, gender, and stuff like that.

Because I guess one of the paradoxes of democracy in general is that when you listen to the voices of all people, there will ultimately be voices coming up that insist that you should not listen to the voices of other people.

Democracy itself, when you don’t conduct it properly, can very easily lead to fascism, authoritarianism, and all of these other kinds of extreme movements

Because we are dedicated to platforming or at least listening to as many of these voices as possible. Ultimately, you would get those kinds of nuances, which is reflected in the survey results that we conducted.

This is also the reason that we did one of the other projects outside of The Citizens’ Agenda that we’re doing in New Naratif called the Principles of Democracy, or more specifically, the Principles of Southeast-Asian Democracy. PJ Thum, the founder and Managing Director of New Naratif, is spearheading that project and is essentially a list of 12 principles of democracy in general, but also more specifically in Southeast Asia, which in observation, we can really tell that we need to observe all of these 12 principles so that we don’t get all of these kinds of paradoxes.

That’s why I feel like applying this framework more specifically allows us to really build a conversation around democracy and also give us a critical mindset, critical view on why certain things need to be listened to or need to be paid attention to more than others and also identify which voices might just be a little bit problematic to platform.

Obviously, I mean, it’s like… Okay, let’s just go and take the anti-LGBT issues that have been coming up at least in 1% of the responses, which is over a dozen responses. It’s already a little bit… It’s not as big as what we might expect it to be, but it’s still quite big. Over a dozen is still quite big in terms of these surveys.

One might argue that, Oh, you’re conducting democracy, so all voices must be valid and we need to platform these. We need to be, quote-unquote, objective, in the sense that, hey, if the people want to eradicate LGBT, then it’s a democracy. We must also take into account what the people want. But that’s not exactly the case, because when we observe democracy through a more thorough, more holistic lens, then that would lead to the tyranny of the majority by not only encroaching upon, but also actively destroying minority rights and minority voices.

That goes against the Principles of Democracy. Having this framework in mind, we can easily say that we can acknowledge that we have received these kinds of responses. But we can also say that, hey, we are receiving responses that go against the principles of democracy. We are positioning ourselves for democracy and therefore we hesitate to platform or we go against the platforming of these hateful or bigoted voices. That’s the thing that we’re doing.

We’re like, it’s not… Exactly. Obviously, people might come back and say, Hey, but you’re cherry-picking responses that align with your ideology and stuff like that. You’re not objective. But you know what? From the very beginning, we are already acknowledging that we cannot be objective, that we are not objective.

We are subjective in the interests of marginalised people in Southeast Asia, in the interests of building a more holistic and participatory and inclusive democracy in the region. So yeah, that’s the general framework that we go with.

Lesson Learned from TCA SG & MY

Okay, yeah. I really like that very nuanced approach of not just centering the voices of the people because they matter, but not just prioritising horizontally for the sake of horizontally, but also protecting marginalised groups. I think this approach also ensures that everyone’s voice is protected. I think this is also a very nuanced approach. It also allows us to protect against outside, maybe even elite interests from also maybe penetrating the movement or this initiative. Ellena, this next question is for you. You were there when we first conducted TCA Singapore and also TCA Malaysia. Now as we start running TCA Indonesia or Agenda Warga, as we call it, what are the differences that we’re seeing and maybe what are the lessons from the last few rounds of The Citizens’ Agenda that you think we can carry on to the Indonesian implementation of it?

I think the major difference was the scale. We see that The Citizens’ Agenda of Singapore was a success. It was quite impactful. But if we look at Singapore on the map compared to Indonesia, Singapore is actually more than 2,000 times smaller than Indonesia. So it’s really quite challenging to have… It’s not an apple to apple to apple to measure the parameter of impact and also the outreach.

The Citizens Agenda launch - New Naratif

When we started the Agenda Warga, like Citizen’s Agenda Indonesia, we recognised that, Oh, our benchmark of impact was Singapore, but we cannot really adopt it 100% to the Indonesia context. The same with Malaysia as well, because in terms of geographic or the cultural diversity, and also the political context and the government system, they’re quite different. It’s really a lot of things that we need to tailor.

But then we recognise we also want to have The Citizen’s Agenda approach as our methods to understand Southeast Asia as a nation as well. Even though we made some adjustments to Agenda Warga, we try to make sure that it’s still making the result and the methods are still comparable to other countries. But another thing is also because in Singapore and Malaysia, we focus a lot on the elections due to the social and political context of those two countries.

But then in Indonesia, we decided that our approach, our measurement of impact should be beyond elections, especially if we look at the social and political context in Indonesia related to the last elections that we have since 2012. We were actually quite observed with the euphoria of having a civilian with no military background to bring our issues as part of their work plan for Indonesia.

Apparently, it turned quite concerning polarisation, especially during 2019. It was quite concerning to put everything in one basket of elections for civic empowerment. We also see in the 2012 and 2019 elections that all the progress and the results of the election have been worsening the horizontal cracks between the civil society.

The main difference and also the lesson learned that we can see, that in Indonesia, in the Agenda Warga, our focus of empowerment is to really address The Citizens’ Agenda beyond the ballot box. We can bring, Okay, here are the issues that are quite important that all politicians that are combating and running for 2024 need to address. But also we need to hear that not to repeat the mistakes that civil society had in 2012 and 2019.

Not just saying, Oh, our issues are being brought to the presidential palace or being brought or people running to the office. But then we’re still going back in the same circles of a lot of discrimination, a lot of human rights violations. That’s the lesson learned that, yes, we bring this to the politicians to listen to our issues, but the focus of our work for Citizens’ Agenda right now is to really build the power for our community, for the people so the participation can go beyond the ballot marks.

Regional Solidarity

Thank you for your answers, Elle. I think those are very insightful. Again, I think it touches back again to what we were saying previously about making a movement that is not only sustainable, but it also has some structure that protects it against elite infiltration. Like you said previously, I think that’s really good. Bonni, this next question is for you. You mentioned previously about the different ways that the issues in Indonesia are also the same with issues amongst the citizens of Singapore and Malaysia. I guess… Sorry, let me repeat that. Knowing all of these issues that we share, what’s the next step that we can take that emphasises maybe regional solidarity? How can we approach these issues from the perspective of, I guess, uniting the citizens of Southeast Asia, especially now that we know all these different issues are connected and all these different issues are shared across borders and across nationalities.

Yeah, that’s always been a challenge, isn’t it? Because it’s one thing academically or I guess expert-wise, quote-unquote, to realise, Oh, hey, look at these various different issues that take their separate forms and manifestations across various different countries in Southeast Asia. 

They all stem from these kinds of patterns and structural issues and stuff like that. Obviously, in New Naratif, we’ve been observing this for quite a while. That’s one of the backgrounds of why New Naratif is a regional movement, attempts to build regional solidarity and regional movements, is because we realised that Southeast Asia has a very unique history in terms of its history of colonialism, how it was built, literally built, and the borders have been drawn by all of the various… It’s colonial history from all of the various countries.

But on the other hand, knowing this does not automatically translate to the citizens themselves or the residents of Southeast Asia being in the know of these commonalities and building solidarity movements.

Because we mentioned this also in our stage one report is that the war in Ukraine got mentioned, like the Russian occupation of Ukraine, got mentioned explicitly as one of the issues in Indonesia, which is like, Oh, yeah, I guess it does have its effects, but it’s not that big.

But on the other hand, the military coup in Myanmar did not get mentioned. All of these other crises in Southeast Asia, migration, displacement, and all of these things in our very neighbouring countries or even in Indonesia, all of these conflicts in Papua, for example, did not get explicitly mentioned as a thing to be concerned about.

Although, again, speaking of nuances, separatist, quote-unquote, separatist movement, quote-unquote, movements that threaten national unity did get mentioned. But the awareness of all of these movements, why are they happening and they are happening across Southeast Asia, those kinds of the regional context, the similarities and commonalities that we have across Southeast Asia, those tend to not get highlighted as much. I don’t think people here realise that.

There’s a lot of noise about the more reason conflicts in Gaza, for example, Israel and Palestine and all of those things. But then there aren’t exactly a lot of protests outside of this regarding, I wonder if some of our listeners might know this, but three state-owned corporations in Indonesia have been supplying arms and weaponry to the military Junta in Myanmar to oppress their people. That’s like, whoa, that’s a big deal.

I was like, We should make more noise about that. Why aren’t we making more noise about that? I guess the next step, if you’re going to ask me that, and I guess a lot of us here are on the same page, is to draw all of these connections that, hey, did you know that what you’re experiencing on a day to day basis are also being experienced by all of these very different people across Southeast Asia, that all of these issues are, again, interconnected. What can you do? What do we do to fix the economy? That’s something gigantic.

But also when we realised that demanding making more noise across social media, across your peers, across your discussion groups, when we start having these conversations and having people be aware of these issues and that they directly relate to politics instead of politics being competitions of cultures of personalities instead of politics being this terrain of who is the best or who is the better leader, who is the more moralistic leader or stuff like that, then I think we can begin to draw all of these various kinds of connections.

Again, this is much easier said than done, but fostering these kinds of discussions, I feel, would be the next steps. Because, again, the discussions that we’ve been holding, I guess, Ellena, you might want to talk more about this after this, but the discussions that we’ve been holding and our anniversary events or our offline discussions, our online discussions even, they all have to do with these kinds of like, how do we build a better future? How do we build a more gentler future for ourselves? Again, these kinds of things are connected.

Solidarity isn’t just for, Yeah, you know what? Let’s build, let’s just make a whole Southeast Asian-wide movement and take to the streets and just protest and everything else. That has its place. Obviously, that has its uses across history that’s been proven to make an impact time and time again.

But before that happens, even building conversations across borders or across provinces or across all these different groups of people in Indonesia and across Southeast Asia, I feel that that’s what we need. That’s how people can feel like, Oh, so there are actually other people listening to us. There are other people having these kinds of experiences that I could actually talk to them about. We are experiencing the same thing. What do we do together?

I think it’s wrong to pretend to have the answers, but to ask the right questions to know that other people are asking the same questions. I think that’s what we need to do.

What Can the Listeners Do?

Yeah. Thanks, Bonni, for those insights into just, I guess, getting more people to participate in more diverse ways and getting different communities involved and also connecting different communities, I guess, from different Southeast Asian backgrounds together. Ellena, I want to ask you, what do you think then are the ways that the audience and the listeners of this podcast can participate in this process? And maybe even what are the different ways that they can get the people around them, the communities that they live in to participate in this process and hopefully through this also create lasting change?

I think the very first thought that we need to take is to demystify the concept of political participation to really unlearn and shift the limited, granular acts into more liberated and granular ones.

Because I believe that in a healthy democratic society that every single person must be an activist. Every professional, not only politicians, not only NGO workers, should have access to an enabling environment where everyone can be actively participating in shaping their future.

I think it’s getting more obvious by days that representative politics are never sufficient and elections are never enough. While we see that general elections can be very significant momentum for any country, in Indonesia’s context, 

I think it’s already time for us to wake up from our daydream to realise that relying on politicians alone will never change our lives. Because politics is all about power and dynamics, and power dynamics happen every minute.

The effort to challenge the dominant power should never take place only every five years. Every political year is not just like every five years. It should be like every day. It should be exercised on a daily basis. We can start from our home, from your classroom, from your office, with your family, with your friends, with your neighbour.

Because I think that to say that you’re not into politics is a very strong political statement, and especially because every day is our political battleground, especially when you’re part of the minority or marginalised groups.

Even though that we say that, Oh, I’m not into politics, but the so-called politics will always be into us and they won’t knock at our door. They will just barge into your home, to your family and take things that you love and take away your rights. 

I think that what we need to do is really to build space to exercise democracy in very, very small practices and to reclaim the politics from the allies. We can really start with the very, very small examples. That’s what we’re trying to build with Citizens’ Agenda.

We try to ask like, You don’t have to put on your shoes as an activist. Because everyone should be an activist, even though you’re not working for NG or even though you’re not running for office. But we need to start talking about daily struggles, our micro politics, and those are mentioned in our results, at least in the stage one, people talking about poverty, people talking about not getting enough job, not having enough access to the health care.

It’s all a very basic human right to access decent living and not only just start the conversations around them, but also to look at them through a critical perspective. That’s something that also we want to build not only with Agenda Warga, but also all the programmes in New Naratif to really democratise on how we build democratic participation. Not only in the context of the country, not only in Indonesia or specific country, but also trying to see how it’s related with the neighbouring country.

Because a lot of the governments, at least in Southeast Asia, they learn from each other on how to office the people. We, like the citizens, all the people, the residents, even those people who are living in the Southeast Asia region with citizenship, we should really try to look through the borders as well to really try to reclaim the politics from the allies. I think that can be one of many ways to start creating the change.

Thank you so much, Elle. I certainly see a lot of patterns here about not just reaching across borders to others, our Southeast Asian neighbours, but also demystifying politics as something that only a certain special class, whether they’re elite politicians or only certain activists do. I think it’s a very important part of the process of getting everyone to participate and getting everyone to realise that politics is something that will impact you whether you like it or not. So you might as well participate. Thank you so much, Elle. Thank you so much, Bonni. I think this wraps up our discussion. Thank you very much for showing up today.

Thank you so much, Daniel. It’s been a pleasure.


And that wraps up our discussion with Bonnibel Rambatan and Ellena Ekarahendy. To find out more about The Citizen’s Agenda Indonesia and how you can participate, go to That’s new naratif dot com slash agenda warga, all one word.

As I mentioned earlier, we will commission and produce analytical, actionable, and relevant information for citizens to understand why political actions, stance, and power are all necessary for ordinary citizens, focusing on top issues from our research as the pivots.

We will also use the findings and resources to activate and empower citizens. We’ll build spaces to facilitate discussions and imagination on issues we have analysed and elaborated from Stage 1 through 3. Join our Democracy Classrooms, a space for empowerment, hope, and engagement to strengthen civil society during the general election 2024 and beyond. Stay tuned for our events that we will be conducting at the end of this month and throughout the end of 2023. 

My name is Daniel Anugerah, and this has been Southeast Asia Dispatches. Brought to you by New Naratif, and produced by Dania Joedo.



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