There will be around 187.1 million Indonesians eligible to vote in April’s presidential and legislative elections. This will be Indonesia’s fourth democratic presidential election since 1998, after the fall of former President Suharto, who ruled for decades. Voting patterns, however, may change with the introduction of new parties and younger voters, many of whom are first time voters. As almost half of the voters across the country are 35 or younger, winning the millennial vote will be a priority both presidential candidates, particularly in the island of Java — Indonesia’s most populated region. In Java, millennials make up around 31 percent of voters and in West Java the number is about 35 percent.
Indonesians are avid users of social media, which is crucial to election campaigning in the expansive archipelago. A simple example would be the viral video featuring the 57-year-old president in a motorbike stunt at the opening ceremony of the Asian Games. Social media provides a convenient platform to steer voters towards their political agenda prior to the election. With over 100 million smartphone users in the country, social media is expected to be a key battleground for the two politicians who are wooing an estimated 56 million millennial voters; and until polling day on April 17th, the candidates will be using technology like never before.
Young voters have previously regarded political information as too heavy and unappealing. Some also believe that there is no point in participating in politics because whoever they vote for will not change their situation. However, these concerns are changing with the emergence of social media. Social media is a relatively new media in Indonesian politics, which has the potential to maximize freedom of expression and the interactivity and communication that allows users to engage with politicians and political campaigns.
But, social media has allowed hateful and hoax messages to disperse online, spreading fear among voters and the public at large. In particular, since the start of the campaigning period, supporters of both presidential candidates have been trading increasingly spiteful blows online.
As a whole, social media may not be able to move any large group of people from one camp to the other. Still, more than ever, Indonesians are navigating and deciphering a new world where social media is intertwined with electoral politics.
By Bayu Waseso, Managing Editor, Weber Shandwick Indonesia