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Will Indonesia’s Online Youth Shape 2014 Elections?

October 16, 2013

Election season is underway in Indonesia with parliamentary elections scheduled for April, followed by the presidential election in July. While many are concerned that ongoing corruption could mar election outcomes, Indonesians continue to demand accountability and transparency from their elected officials, as recently demonstrated by online outrage expressed about the scandal surrounding the chief justice of the Constitutional Court, Akil Mochtar, who was arrested for graft. In fact, Indonesia’s rapid democratic transition is as much a story about improved governance and economic growth as it is about technology and changing demographics.

elections in Indonesia

Of the projected 187 million eligible voters in Indonesia’s 2014 elections, over one-third will be first-time voters between the ages of 16 and 20. Photo/Natalia Warat

First-time voters and social media’s phenomenon

Of the projected 187 million eligible voters in 2014 elections, over one-third will be first-time voters between the ages of 16 and 20 (in Indonesia, married citizens under the 17-year-old voting age can register to vote). This youth population is increasingly online and connected via mobile devices and the web, and they may very well help shape the political landscape in the years to come.

While broadband internet penetration in Indonesia hovers at just 24 percent, an estimated 84 percent of Indonesians own at least one mobile phone. Though smartphone ownership has reached 24 percent of mobile phone users, the majority of Indonesians are still communicating through low-end feature phones.

Nine out of 10 online users in Indonesia are active on social media (compared to for example, the U.S. where it’s seven out of 10). According to Facebook, there are 64 million users in Indonesia, 56 percent of whom are 16 to 24 years old. Jakarta has recently been called the world’s number one Twitter city for number of tweets sent. Mobile access to social media is dominant; approximately 87 percent of tweets are sent over mobile phones.

social media fest

A discussion at a recent social media fest in Jakarta. Nine out of 10 online users in Indonesia are active on social media, with 64 million Facebook users. Photo/John Karr

Past elections and issues for 2014

These astounding statistics did not exist five years ago during Indonesia’s last presidential elections in 2009. The landscape for accessing information has changed, and technology’s power to have impact on a number of issues across cultural, economic, and political bounds has increased. For example, social media’s momentous sway in elections was front and center during Joko Widodo’s (commonly known as Jokowi) run in the 2012 Jakarta regional election. Leading up to the elections, Jokowi had built up his social media presence through YouTube videos and dedicated Twitter and Facebook accounts, and enabled him to reach millions of mobile and social media-savvy voters – especially youth.

But, election procedures haven’t always been smooth in years past, and new technology alone will of course not solve all of these problems. In the country’s second national elections in 2009, inaccurate voter lists affected up to 20 percent of registered voters, and left many others without a voice on election day. A high rate of invalid ballots and fraud in reporting of results further weakened the electoral process that year.

To help avoid these flaws in the 2014 elections, large-scale promotion of civic education is imperative to engage more voters and enable them to make more informed decisions come election day and beyond. According to Indonesia’s home minister, Gamawan Fauzi, there has been an average of 10 percent decline in civic participation in every national election. Improved civic education is one approach to restoring trust and enthusiasm for the electoral process. A recent GroupW survey found that only 47 percent of potential Jakartan voters said they will definitely vote, 40 percent said they will perhaps vote, and 13 percent said they will definitely not vote. Studies have found that first-time voters need to be better informed on the mechanics of voting, such as registering for a voter ID and filling out a ballot.

Technology and social media have a critical role to play in Indonesia’s political climate to help promote civic education and engagement. And it’s a two-way street; politicians can expand their platforms and promote their campaigns online and citizens can educate themselves on elections and voice concerns and insights via tech-driven channels. Tech-enabled youth can express their political views more freely and be a part of the national discussion. As campaign season gets closer, Indonesians may find that their smart usage of social media and mobile technology will usher in political candidates who are mindful of a free and fair democratic process, both online and offline.

The Asia Foundation’s current work on civic education ahead of next year’s legislative and presidential elections will examine how to improve traditional ways of improving voter outreach, and will also focus on ways that technology can reach many of these young, first-time voters. We are now working with Indonesian software developer groups, civil society, academic circles, and media networks to build an open source movement to provide critical election data to voters via web and mobile phones. Simple, fast, clean, and reliable access to election information via mobile and web can help propel more informed voters – first-time and experienced – to not only vote come election day, but to also stay engaged in the debate around Indonesia’s most critical issues over the long-term.

Nicolas Picard is a junior associate and Michelle Chang is ICT manager, both for The Asia Foundations Digital Media and Technology Programs unit in San Francisco. They can be reached at npicard@asiafound.org and mchang@asiafound.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors and not those of The Asia Foundation.

View all posts by Michelle Chang

View all posts by Nicolas Picard

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