In the age of TikTok, youth vote will be decisive in Indonesia’s elections

By Steven Handoko

Jakarta, Feb 12 (EFE).- The youth vote will be decisive in Wednesday’s elections in Indonesia, where controversial former general Prabowo Subianto is leading polls during a campaign that has been marked by widespread use of TikTok and other social media.

Voters between 17 and 40 years of age, who account for 52% of the 205 million people called to the polls in Indonesia – the world’s third most populous democracy and the country with the largest Muslim population – will be decisive in elections to choose the president, vice president, members of parliament and thousands of local officials.

Prabowo, the current defense minister who according to a recent poll is on track to win an absolute majority after losing the last two elections to President Joko Widodo, has identified the country’s youth as central to his campaign strategy.

Accused of human rights violations during his time as the head of the elite military corps (1995-1998) in East Timor, Papua and against activists during the last years of the Suharto dictatorship (1967-1998), the septuagenarian has improved his image due in part to dances that have gone viral on TikTok.

Thanks to a carefully choreographed campaign, many young people view the former general as a “gemoy” (“endearing”) granddad.

According to Mada Sukmajati, a professor of politics and government at Indonesia’s Gadjah Mada University, that many young Indonesians are also unaware of Prabowo’s controversial career or simply think he is a thing of the past.

“They assume that the issue of human rights violations in the past is something from previous generations,” Sukmajati told EFE in an email.

Apart from his questionable human rights record, Prabowo’s alliance with Widodo’s son, Gibran Rakabuming, his deputy and running mate, has triggered debate: while it has raised his cache for some, it has been criticized by others for potentially spawning a political dynasty.

Several youth groups organized different protests on Monday against their alliance.

“At first, I supported Prabowo because of his relative success at the head of the Ministry of Defense. Everything changed when he supported Gibran as a vice-presidential candidate and the whole Constitutional Court thing,” Berwyn, an 18-year-old university student, told EFE.

Berwyn, who says he has spent a lot of time discussing the election on internet forums, was referring to the Constitutional Court’s decision in October to lower the minimum age for candidates for president and vice president from 40 to 35 on the condition that they have political experience.

The change benefited Gibran, who is 36 and was elected in 2020 mayor of Surakarta (Solo).

“I am part of the first generation of Indonesians who experienced a new level of freedom under the reform era. And I don’t want it to be taken away from me by the same old privileged people,” Berwyn said, which is why he has decided to vote for another presidential candidate, Anies Baswedan, former governor of Jakarta (2017-2022).

The third in the race is Ganjar Pranowo, of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle.

While some young people like Berwyn fear that the alliance between Prabowo – Suharto’s son-in-law – and Gibran means a return to the late dictator’s New Order regime, others see it more as a joke that his “ghost” is planning for the elections.

Thus, an AI deep-fake video of the late Indonesian leader Suharto campaigning for Golkar, the political movement that supported him and is now part of the coalition backing Prabowo, has amassed more than 4.7 million views on the social network X.

Rian Ernest, 36, and who is running as Golkar’s candidate, insists that he is doing so for practical reasons.

“Politics affects our daily lives. The price of the coffee we buy, the cost of the electricity bill, are all derived from politics. So, as young people, we have to be critical and keep an eye on it,” Rian told EFE. EFE


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