Time for the young to lead

INDONESIA made an audacious decision that will change its political construct, perhaps for the better.

The country’s Constitution (as spelled out in Undang-Undang Dasar 1945) stipulates a minimum age of 40 for the post of President and Vice President.

Recently, its highest court, the constitutional court, in a 5-4 decision ruled that such a restriction is an injustice against younger politicians.

The public reaction was swift and brutal. The airwaves and social media were abuzz with accusations that the ruling was meant to allow President Joko Widodo’s son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, 36, to contest as Vice President. The fact that the president of the constitutional court was Jokowi’s brother-in-law adds fuel to fire.

One of the three candidates running for President, Prabowo Subianto, has named Gibran as his running mate. It is a brilliant move considering that 52% of Indonesia’s 205 million registered voters are below 40. To put it in perspective, Generation Z and the millennials make up more than half of the voters in the 2024 presidential election where the minimum voting age is 17.

Despite his pronouncement to the contrary, many believed that Jokowi has a hand in the decision as the popular president ends his second term soon. Indonesia’s post-Reformasi Constitution disallows for a third term.

Interestingly, Jokowi too, was accused of not supporting candidates from his own party, PDI-P, (Ganjar Pranowo and his running mate Mahfud MD). Instead, he is supporting Prabowo of Partai Gerindra (who has contested against him twice) and whom he later appointed as Minister of Defence; and his son Gibran, who is the Surakarta City mayor.

The other candidate for president is Anies Baswedan, a former minister and governor of Jakarta. Perhaps the decision by the constitution court is right, but the timing is not.

I can understand the accusation that Jokowi is building his own political dynasty. After all, Jokowi’s youngest son Kaesang Pangarep joined Partai Solidariti Indonesia (PSI) for hardly two days before he was appointed its president.

Many accused Jokowi of allowing political patronage and dynastic politics to upend the spirit of democracy.

The uproar over the decision resulted in the setting up of the honorary council of the constitutional court. They can only remove the president of the court, Anwar Usman, but the decision on the eligibility criteria stays.

Many countries are moving towards nurturing an ecosystem that allows younger politicians to thrive. In most countries, there is no eligibility criteria to hold the highest posts.

Elsewhere, we are looking at 30-something running nations. Jacinda Arden was 37 when she became the Prime Minister of New Zealand. Mahamat Deby of Chad, Assimi Goita of Mali, Irakli Garibashvili of Georgia, Sebastian Kurz of Austria and Kim Jong-un of North Korea were all in their thirties when they assumed power.

Are we becoming a gerontocracy – a country run by elderly people? Understandably in politics, the old has power, money and support.

Warlordism still rules. Many simply believe they are god-sent to cling to power, sometimes at whatever cost.

That is why we need a new crop of leaders to lead at the highest level in Malaysia.

I feel sorry for Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman. He is one of the brightest political stars and is perhaps even PM material.

But he is tainted now, just another name in the court cluster. The road to clear his name is littered with challenges. He is alone and without “protection”, unlike some others. But age is on his side. Perhaps this is a temporary setback. He might even bounce back strongly in the future.

Khairy Jamaluddin, although older than Syed Saddiq, is gallantly in the political wilderness after being sacked by Umno.

KJ, as he is popularly known, is enjoying his “sabbatical”, co-hosting a podcast and always has the temerity to provide cynical versions of events. He is lurking out somewhere, cleverly not joining any party, perhaps eyeing the highest post in his former party at the opportune time. Never write off KJ politically!

There are many first-time MPs in the Dewan Rakyat – some even appointed to ministerial posts albeit with varying degrees of success, others tenaciously serving their constituencies beyond the media glare. However, there are a handful who show how naive they are about their roles; some even became a laughing stock for their idiotic comments and half-baked arguments.

Wisdom comes with age. But in a brutal world of politics, age can be a double-edged sword.

Even Joe Biden believes that he can still serve and asks to be given the chance to be re-elected. This is amid images of him stumbling, speaking incoherently and behaving weirdly in full view of the world.

Or perhaps, it is not easy for the young to grasp the highest post within the Asian mindset.

Just take a look at what happened to Pita Limjaroenrat of Thailand who almost become Prime Minister at 43. Sukarno became Indonesia’s president at the age of 44 and our own Tun Razak Hussein was 48 when he assumed office.

BJ Habibie was the oldest person to become the president at the age of 66 and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is 76. The youngest deputy president in the history of Indonesia during Sukarno’s rule was Mohammad Hatta, who was 43. Gibran will break all records if his team wins. The young need a feel-good story in a vocation mostly reserved for the elderly.

Johan Jaaffar was a journalist and for some years, the chairman of a media company. He is passionate about all things literature and the arts and is a diehard All Blacks fan.

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bowerbird , Indonesia , Jokowi , Prabowo , Gibran , Vice President


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