As the presidential election in Indonesia draws near, former freelance journalist and current LSE MSc student Dea Karina looks at the role of social media in Indonesia’s political landscape.

From the fall of the military dictatorship known as the ‘New Order’ in 1998, Indonesia has progressed to be the third largest democracy in the world. According to Indonesia Internet Service Association’s (APJII) survey in 2017, the internet has penetrated 55% of the population. This means that 143 million people in the country use the Internet, and 75% of its users are from the middle to lower class.

This April, Indonesia will have its 5th free presidential election since the collapse of the New Order. As election day approaches, social media has been intensely used as a space to influence public opinion. The leading use of the Internet is for social media at 87%, and 42% of Indonesians use of the internet to find religious information.  On certain websites who are considered to be portals of religious information, some spread misinformation and black campaigns. Furthermore, there is suspicion that bots have been used in the campaigns in ways similar to the U.S. 2016 presidential election.

Social Media and the Indonesian Presidential Election 2019

The Indonesian presidential election this April will be between Joko Widodo, the current president, and Prabowo Subianto, an ex-son-in-law of Suharto and former Lieutenant General of the Indonesian National Armed Forces. In the 2014 election, Joko Widodo was mostly supported by those who identify as progressive and Prabowo supporters used Islamic religious rhetoric to garner support. It was a period of heated political tensions, proven by the success of the Islamic hardline movement that demanded Ahok, Joko Widodo’s (or “Jokowi”) Christian partner when he held the position of the Governor of Jakarta, to be imprisoned for blasphemy over a doctored video. However, the tables have turned for the 2019 election as Jokowi chose to partner with a hard-line muslim cleric, Ma’ruf Amin. Disappointed, previous Jokowi supporters started a #Golput Twitter campaign. “Golput” is an abbreviation of golongan putih, literally meaning the “white group” – a term used to represent blank votes. In the context of noisy political rhetoric and misinformation, many millennials feel disaffected and find an alternative in humor through social media.

Indonesians love abbreviations in their politics. When a few frustrated university students got together and created a satirical and fictitious presidential candidate they took the name of a rural masseuse famous for his spam comments, Nurhadi. They then created a fictitious vice president to be his running mate, Aldo. Inevitably, Nurhadi-Aldo was abbreviated as “Dildo” and its Instagram account gained more followers than official accounts of Indonesian political parties. Nurhadi-Aldo was seen as a breath of fresh air during times of blurry political noise, but also has been criticized for insensitive posts and selling merchandise.

Fictional presidential candidate Nurhadi ‘meets’ President Trump in a doctored image

What does this mean for the role of social media in Indonesian democracy? Observing the phenomenon, it seems that #Golput and Dildo are forms of protest. How will these social media campaigns affect citizens’ actual engagement with representative democracy? Jodi Dean (2005) argued that participating in online activism is part of communicative capitalism that only benefits the capitalist corporations of social media, but previous social media campaigns to imprison Ahok were a success. If the presidential election indeed resulted in a large portion of blank votes thanks to the Twitter hashtag, can one argue that social media played a role in delegitimizing the third largest democracy in the world? What does a humorous and sexual abbreviation of a fictitious online presidential candidate in Indonesian politics say about the largest Muslim population in the world? Are the citizens exhausted with religious rhetoric? The results of the April election will provide some insight into the effects of social media in democratic politics, in a country ranking fourth in the world for Facebook use and first in South East Asia.

All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of Polis, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science.