JAKARTA, June 27 (Reuters) - To attract Indonesia’s army of young voters, one presidential candidate is hoping a “Two Finger Salute” will do the trick.
It’s a song by top Indonesian rock band Slank, and refers to the serial number two on the ballot paper allocated to the front-runner in the July 9 presidential election, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.
His only rival Prabowo Subianto, who received the number one, is being backed in a Nazi-themed music video by a different rock star, Ahmad Dhani. The singer has been sharply criticised for the song that paints former general Prabowo as a strong leader, with music adapted from Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and performers in quasi-military uniforms.
But setting aside the questionable taste, these songs and forays into social media provide little evidence that either candidate has had any success in attracting the youth vote. Nearly a third of Indonesia’s 187 million voters are between 17 and 29, and will be crucial in deciding the close race to run the world’s third-largest democracy and Southeast Asia’s biggest economy for the next five years.
Jeany Hartriani, a 21-year-old student at the University of Indonesia, said neither candidate had laid out a detailed plan on issues that were important to her, such as job opportunities.
“As someone in the young generation, I do wonder: When I get married, get a job and have a child, will we have a good economic condition?” she said.
“Young people should participate more because this involves our future, we cannot just be hands-off,” said Hartriani, who will vote in a presidential election for the first time.
In India, a country which shares many characteristics with Indonesia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi won a huge majority last month after a campaign that focused on growth, jobs and youth.
Like India, Indonesia was among the world’s fastest growing economies before a sharp slowdown in recent years. Growth in the first quarter in Indonesia fell to the lowest in four years.
As growth slowed, unemployment has risen, putting jobs at the top of the agenda for most young adults.
There were 7.39 million unemployed Indonesians as of August 2013, representing 6.25 percent of the labour force, according to the government. Around five million young adults are enrolled in colleges or equivalent institutions, creating a huge pool of jobseekers when they graduate.
“The two candidates are still focusing on the big, general issues such as sovereignty and corruption,” said Firman Noor, a political analyst at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences.
“Their campaign to attract the young also tends to be symbolic in nature. But they are facing an increasingly critical youth population that is not easily swayed by symbolic methods.”
Besides what they hope will be popular rock ballads, the two candidates have a strong presence on social media, hoping to strike a chord with the under 30‘s.
Indonesia has more than 69 million active Facebook users, placing it fourth globally behind the United States, India and Brazil, a spokeswoman for the social network said.
The country also ranked as the world’s fifth-biggest Twitter population with 29.4 million users, according to a 2012 study by Paris-based social media research firm Semiocast.
Prabowo’s online team, numbering just five at the last election in 2009, now stands at 60 and will grow even more after the election, said Noudhy Valdryno, digital strategist for the candidate’s Gerindra Party.
“The role of online media in the Indonesian election is huge,” he said. “It is developing and it is also the only medium that allows full freedom for people to interact with a political party or political figures.”
The battle for the youth vote is also played out on stage, with Slank holding concerts in a number of cities to drum up support for Jokowi.
“First-time voters like political outreach that is fun,” said Zuhairi Misrawi, media centre coordinator for the Jokowi campaign. “Songs such as the Two Finger Salute by Slank are very effective. YouTube, Twitter, games too.”
Even if the songs prove popular, many in the 20-30 age group feel the candidates are missing the point.
Jamalianuri, a 22-year-old student at the University of Indonesia, said: “Slank has many pretty fanatical fans called ”Slankers“ so this could sway their vote towards Jokowi. But I feel that the candidates should engage with us more on issues such as facing globalization.”
For Thoyib, a 26-year-old rice porridge seller in Jakarta’s business district, the proof of the candidates’ commitment will be in their actions, not words.
“I hope that whoever becomes president will not make empty promises,” he said. “But I don’t have big hopes for the election. I just hope to sell more porridge.” (Additional reporting by Dennys Kapa, Editing by Jonathan Thatcher and Raju Gopalakrishnan)