[Kolom No.1, 2023]

Oleh Riwanto Tirtosudarmo (Peneliti Sosial Independen)

In an op-ed essay for The Jakarta Post on 25 June 2015, I wrote the following:

Demography will remain one of toughest challenges for Indonesia’s future. The silent nature of demographic pressures makes the general public unaware of its profound impacts, economically and politically. Managing demographic pressures requires a proper understanding of demographic characteristics and their interplay with other variables.

Now, almost a decade after that essay which aimed to alert President Jokowi on the challenge brought about by demography, the circumstances seem unchanged, even getting more critical. As the fourth largest country in size population after China (1.44 billion), India (1.37 billion), and the USA (330 million), Indonesia (270 million) faces an even greater tremendous challenge in managing the sustainability of its social, economic, and political developments in such a far-flung territory.

Proclaimed as a sovereign state in 1945 following the end of World War II, Indonesia joined the newly decolonized states in Asia and Africa, such as India, Pakistan, Burma, Kenya, Egypt, and Ghana. As world history moved toward the bipolar global politics of the Cold War, Indonesia’s first president, Soekarno, initiated a political campaign to create a new political block of non-aligned countries mostly comprising the newly decolonized nation in which China and Vietnam were also part of it. The creation of a non-aligned movement initiated by Soekarno shows the strong aspiration of Indonesian leaders to contribute to shaping the global political order that is often dictated by superpowers like the USA and at the time the Soviet Union.

As a country that for around 300 years lived under Dutch colonial power, Indonesia has learned a long history of subjugation and struggle to be an independent nation. In this important historical context, the beginning of the twentieth century could be seen as the significant era in which a seed of national consciousness began to flourish, epitomized by Kartini. Kartini was born in 1879 as a Javanese daughter of a regent in Pati, Central Java. Kartini, through letters written in the Dutch language to her pen friends in Holland, marks the beginning of a sense of being native and that life controlled by others is more powerful. The letters also represent the voice of a girl that is treated differently from her male siblings by her own Javanese tradition. Her letters that are then published in Holland symbolize the cry for freedom both as the woman and the native people.

One thing is certain what has been developing for a century is beyond what the Dutch colonial government imagined. The ethical policy that the goal is to uplift the welfare of the native proves to be affecting not only the social and economic conditions of the native but more importantly, have changed the political aspiration of the view educated native people. Higher education originally aimed to train the native in several vocations needed to support the social and economic programs, such as public health, engineering, and legal bureaucracy; in short, to produce the professional groups that could strengthen the technocracy of the colonial government. What is unexpected is the impact of the penetration of the capitalist system through the various introductions of modern economic institutions and infrastructures, among others through the introduction of the labor union and the print media.

As Benedict O.Gorman Anderson has meticulously written in his famous book Imagined Communities: On the Origin and the Spread of Nationalism, the impact of print capitalism is profound. He shows how the shaping up of the nation-state is attributed to more by national consciousness triggered by colonial policies and civic engagement, rather than originating from being a member of ethnic communities. A sense of belonging to a wider community or nation began to be felt at the dawn of the twentieth century. The end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century were marked by several important social changes, the impact of which significantly altered the course of history in Indonesia.

Implementing an ethical policy aimed to improve the welfare of the native through education, irrigation, and emigration has become the pinnacle of a major transformation in the life of the native. Emigration or colonization manifested in the policy aimed to balance the distribution of population between Java which is perceived as already overpopulated and other islands that are perceived as empty continued after independence. Transmigration in a nutshell exemplified the critical idea of political demography in the nation-state building processes. The colonization of islands outside Java through the creation of Javanese agricultural enclaves also reflects the obsession among the ruling elites after the independence of demographic engineering as a device to achieve national integration. In this regard, the political demography perspective offers a discourse as well as empirical evidence of how a nation-state is in the making or unmaking in the last 100 years.

What should also be given attention to is the expansion of urban areas as economic activities continue flocking into the cities, especially in Java. The number of the younger generation increased rapidly, which triggered the high demand for higher education. Again, as the good higher learning facilities are mainly concentrated in Java, it caused more and more migration of young people toward Java, making Java the center of education. Cities in Indonesia as well as in many other countries have become the showcase in which the movement of people across the globe is contested. The shaping up of the nation-state from the perspective of political demography in which the movement of people is engineered or voluntary is perceived as a critical variable in such a process. The archipelagic nature of the Indonesian geographical landscape in which Java, the most populated island, constitutes the center of gravity attracts people to migrate for economic and other reasons.

As Indonesia embarks on a new political regime after 1965 that emphasized economic development, the government began to control the growth of the population as well as its geographic distribution. Two main national population policies are created, a family planning program to reduce the birth rate and a transmigration program to relocate people from densely populated islands, namely Java and Bali, to Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and Papua. The statistical evidence shows that since 1971, the rate of population growth successfully reduced from 2.1 to 1.25 in 2020. Yet, the Indonesian population continues to grow from 11.21 million in 1971 to 270.20 million in 2020. As the birth rate significantly falls in the past 50 years, the age structure of the Indonesian population also changes considerably. The changing age structure since 1971, shows a declining proportion of the population aged 0–14 and the increased proportion of the population aged 15–64 and 65+. The demographic situation reflects what is in the literature popularly known as the periods of demographic bonus in which the proportion of the population in working age (15–64) constitute the largest group. The challenge for the policymakers is therefore whether sufficient jobs could be created to accommodate the increasing demand, especially from the younger generation that moves from education institutions to the marketplace.

The social and political ramifications of the unmet demand for the working-age population, especially the youth, could be shattering as the unemployed youth may easily be attracted by political entrepreneurs to engage in uncivil activities, such as radical and terrorist groups. Since Covid-19 began to spread in February 2020 as in many other countries, the Indonesian economy has also been deeply affected. After more than two years, while vaccination provides hopes to halt the spread of the pandemic, the slowdown in the economy adds to the problem of creating new jobs for the increasing working-age population.

Looking back, if 1971 is considered the beginning of the settlement of the New Order regime describe in 1978 by Herberth Feith, the Australian scholar, as the repressive developmental regime, Indonesia has gone through 50 years long complex development. The New Order regime under President Suharto finally ended in 1998 following what American scholar, Ruth McVey, described in 1996 as its internal paralysis. McVey succinctly writes the predicament of the New Order of Suharto as the following:

By the mid-1990s the combination of intense emphasis on social stability, state control, and capitalist development has resulted in what might best be described as dynamic paralysis.

The political development after the demise of Suharto unfortunately was not as people expected. The euphoria of what is popularly known as reformation proves to be mere words, only rhetoric as the political structure continues unabated. Regime changes, but not the structure of the body politics. In the words of Robison and Hadiz (2004) what happened is just a reorganizing power.

Most of the population and the masses continue to be unable to improve their economic condition as promised by political elites that heralded the reformation. The fact is people move mostly in a short distance rather than long distances, let alone crossing the border to other countries. Available data on the distribution of the population by provinces across the country despite the decreasing number of the population residing in Java shows only a reduction of less than 5% between 1980 (61.88%) and 2020 (56.10%). The 5% decline of the population in Java between 1980 and 2020 distributed into other islands, namely Sumatra (19–21.67%), Nusa Tenggara (5.38–5.54%), Kalimantan (4.56–6.15%), Sulawesi (7.06–7.36%), and the rest distributed in places such as Maluku and Papua. However small it looks from the perspective of the national level, it could be remarkably high if we look at the perspective at the local level, for example in the case of Papua.

Migration to Papua is one of the hot issues as it creates a problem of competition between migrants and the local Papuans in search of dire economic opportunities, particularly in urban areas. Indonesia is indeed increasingly becoming more urbanized between 1980 and 2020 as more and more people reside in the cities. Again, there is a regional difference in the increase of urbanization in which Java shows the highest (62.6%) followed by Sumatra (41.4%), Nusa Tenggara (42.6%), Kalimantan (44.8%), Sulawesi (36.9%), Maluku (36%) and the lowest are found in Maluku Utara (27.8%), Papua (28.4%), and Papua Barat (32.3%).

What is beyond expectation is the sudden spread of coronavirus that was first found in Wuhan, China. The deadly virus called Covid-19 in a short time has become a pandemic that is sweeping into all countries without exception. The spread of the virus through people movement forces all governments to control the movement of people both within and between countries. Demography, migration particularly, immediately becomes the human behavior that needed to be controlled to prevent the spread of the virus. It has been more than three years since the first spread of the virus from Wuhan. While the vaccine to prevent the disease has been found, the vaccination for the endangered population took time to really contain the pandemic.

In the history of the world and the history of Indonesia as well, the pandemic is not uncommon. It happened during colonial times as the pest rampage in a place like Malang in East Java. Yet the Covid-19 pandemic seems unparalleled as it occurred at such a speed as migration becomes the main feature of twenty-first-century globalization. While globalization in the early twentieth century occurred in the context of western colonization, in the early twenty-first century, globalization occurred simultaneously with the spread of market capitalism through the expansion of transportation and communication technology.

As the fourth largest country in the world in the size of its population, Indonesia is confronted with a real challenge to secure the population from the spread of this deadly virus. Now, at the beginning of the third decade of the twenty-first century, the question is what has been learned and not learned; and what likely are the current and future challenges for Indonesia’s political demography to continue its development course as a nation-state.

There seem to be some parallels as well as paradoxes when we place Indonesia in perspective of what takes place in the early twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Among the parallels: (1) The state, both the colonial and the post-colonial, continues to be confronted by the problem of demographic imbalance between “inner” and “outer” islands, between Java and other islands; (2) in the early twentieth-century foreign capital began to take place in the economy, apparently similar to what is emphasized under the current government; (3) the state, both colonial and the current government, shows similar characteristic as authoritarian and undemocratic with the obsession to develop modern public infrastructures and high economic growth from foreign investments; (4) increasing problem of economic inequality and social injustice between the limited few and the majority of the population; and (5) the challenge of maintaining the territorial integrity as centrifugal tendencies continually recurred, at the beginning of the twentieth century the Dutch struggle to conquer Aceh, and now the Indonesian government confronting separatist movement in Papua.

History, as many pundits have said, is repeating itself. Indonesia is interestingly a perfect showcase of how population dynamics and political change intertwined. And as I already indicated in 2015, “managing demographic pressures requires a proper understanding of demographic characteristics and their interplay with other variables.” In this interplay, one critical demographic variable that has a significant role in shaping the nation-state of Indonesia is the movement of people. Colonization as the colonial state’s demographic engineering policy to move people from Java to “outer islands” continued by transmigration policy after independence. The continuing policy provides a way in shaping the different communities into an integrated nation. Yet what will be the final result of the nation-state building in this far-flung archipelago continues to be contested and as persuasively indicated above might be becoming more convoluted in the near future.

This is an updated and shorter version of the epilog of my book (“The political demography of Indonesia: From colonisation to nation-state”, Springer 2021)

Kampung Limasan Tonjong, 11 January 2023

Sumber gambar Sampul: https://shp.ee/ugecxww


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Tentang Penulis

Riwanto Tirtosudarmo belajar psikologi di Fakultas Psikologi UI. Setelah lulus, bekerja di Leknas LIPI, dan melanjukan studi Pascasarjana di Research School of Social Sciences Australian National University dan mendapatkan master dan doctor dalam bidang demografi sosial. Penulis dapat dihubungi melalui tirtosudarmo@yahoo.com