What do you think is the most pressing political challenge facing your generation?
I think the challenge of the generation today, is how we can take a step back and approach political discourses more objectively. With easier access to information and freedom of expression, at least in the context of Indonesia, segregation between groups with opposing political opinions gets more apparent.
On the one hand this is a good situation for us. Our democracy gets more mature and public participation in elections hits 81%. But on the other hand discourses today are full with poor quality and non-objective arguments due to the political affiliations and biases. This could jeopardise the already poor policy-making processes.
I think what we need now is more evidence-based discourses which advocate more objective solutions. Political parties should place more attention on merit-based promotion of their politicians. Media should gear towards data-driven journalism.
What is your perception of government as an institution?
There is a perception in the public that the government acts as an inhibitor rather than facilitator for the public. Personally, I think such a perception should be attributed more to the failure of the government on implementing policies. It is apparent that capacity to implement policies today is rather weak. The room for improvement for us as the government lies around breaking siloes, strengthening implementation discipline and improving policy communications.
Do you feel optimistic about the future of your country?
I do. Mainly whenever I see how the young generation earn strategic roles in the space of policy-making.
The public has also witnessed how some of them really performed and have started to change how bureaucracy works. The importance of it is that they often set an unprecedented high standard on service delivery.
Some people worry that the system would return to status quo once the young leaders step down, however, I argue that the successor would strive to hit the new bar as public demands no lower service delivery standard.
Which other countries inspire you and why?
I am fascinated and inspired by Denmark, the people and specific values they hold and share across the population.
Having stayed there for a while, I’ve learned that their society lives by a communal lifestyle, bundled with humility towards personal achievement. For example, one would say that people in Denmark believe ”to be the best, but won’t tell anyone”.
Some people may think that these values will hold back one’s competitive trait, but I believe that humility and the sense of collaboration in these communal values is exactly what the world is lacking nowadays.
Who do you admire? Who is your hero?
I am inspired by a famous Indonesian book author, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, who has produced several monumental works of literature during his lifetime. One of his notable masterpieces is the Buru Quartet.
Those books have been influential to me in the way that they portray young generations who aspire to create change. They give us a glimpse of one’s journey to make the improbable dream happen and how they cope with with skeptics and people reluctant to change. I think this is very relevant to politics today and balancing act between disruption and business as usual.
Another one’s work I admire is Bob Marley’s music. His word “emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our mind”, always gets me anytime that song is played.
What is one thing that you would like to preserve for the next generation?
We need to cultivate and preserve the culture of perseverance and critical thinking. Perseverance always gets you somewhere no matter what you do, where you start, what modality you have to begin with.
Meanwhile critical thinking always gets you to land on a new and unexplored space, giving you the chance to add value, a chance to make a breakthrough, which ultimately make yourself feel worthy and content.
Agung Hikmat is Presidential Advisor in the Government of Indonesia.