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Jakarta Post

Will the real millennials please stand up?

  • Karina M. Tehusijarana

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Wed, January 30, 2019   /   08:37 pm
Will the real millennials please stand up? With their tech savvy and awareness of trends, young politicians are trying to improve their internet presence via vlogs. (Shutterstock/File)

“Hi guys,” 22-year-old legislative candidate Tsamara Amany says in the opening to the latest video on her Instagram account. “I get a lot of questions through direct messages or comments on my photos but sometimes I don’t have enough time to answer them. Now, those of you who have questions, go ahead and write them below and I’ll answer the 10 best questions in my next vlog.”

Tsamara, an executive in the newcomer Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI), is only one out of over 900 legislative candidates aged 21 to 35 who are set to compete for seats at the House of Representatives in the upcoming general election.

With their tech savvy and awareness of trends, these young politicos seem poised to grasp the apparent holy grail of Indonesian politics: the millennial vote.

Voters aged 17 to 35 make up nearly half of the total electorate, and parties and politicians have accordingly set their sights on this demographic.

But questions remain as to whether they are aiming for the right target.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has often appealed to the younger crowd by donning casual clothing and sneakers and attending music festivals, while campaign team members have sought to portray Jokowi’s 75-year-old running mate and Muslim cleric Ma’ruf Amin as a “millennial at heart”.

Meanwhile, Gerindra Party chairman and former general Prabowo Subianto has been striving to project a more laid-back public persona to attract young voters, with his campaign team trumpeting the merits of the “New Prabowo”. Running mate Sandiaga Uno, on the other hand, needs no help in that department, with multiple polls showing that young people are drawn to his image as a successful businessman.

Indonesian media expert at the Australian National University (ANU), Ross Tapsell, however, believes that the prevailing wisdom about millennial voters betrays a blinkered view.

“The usual depiction of a millennial is someone who is inner city, using Go-Food, on Instagram, active about politics in social media. In fact that’s really only a small proportion of what a lot of people aged between 17 and 35 are actually doing in this election,” he said.

Tapsell cited 2018 research from the ANU that found that fewer than 10 percent of millennials living in Greater Jakarta had a university degree and that two-thirds of millennial-aged women in metropolitan regions were stay-at-home mothers.

“Indonesia often depicts millennials as middle- or upper-income and they ignore the poorer millennials,” he said at an event about millennial voters held by the Australian Embassy in Central Jakarta on Tuesday.

Tsamara, who was also present at the event, acknowledged Tapsell’s point and said this was one of the reasons why she did not rely solely on social media to campaign.

She said that besides campaigning through vlogs and tweets, she had also gone door-to-door in over 100 locations in her district and also held regular face-to-face discussions targeted at millennials with nonpolitical themes such as the digital economy and the movie industry.

“I think social media is just a tool for us to be able to engage millennials in offline settings,” she said. “The offline meetings also allow me to interact with people of different political persuasions that I might not be able to reach out to on social media.”

Despite his own prolific vlogging, Faldo Maldini, the 28-year-old deputy secretary-general of the National Mandate Party (PAN), said that he did not differentiate between millennial voters and those of other generations.

“I also know that there is no such thing as a social media electoral district,” he said. “But social media can help amplify things.”

Faldo, who is running for a House seat in West Java’s fifth electoral district, said that he, too, placed a lot of focus on door-to-door campaigning and had made 280 visits to his district in the past few months.

“Social media does help us save on budgeting as we don’t need to spend as much on billboards and pamphlets,” he said. “I’ve also gotten a lot of support from people outside my district who want to help.”

Despite the young politicians’ apparent awareness of the nuances of the millennial vote, Tapsell said that political parties as a whole seemed to be less clear on who they were targeting.

“It’s lazy to talk about a group of people as being one voting bloc," he said. “I think political parties talk about millennials without thinking much about what that means.” (ipa)