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First-Time Indonesian Voters a Force to Reckon With

First-Time Indonesian Voters a Force to Reckon With

By Nadine Sumedi on 08:05 am Jun 20, 2014

An estimated 67 million voters will be voting for the first time, and their ballots on July 9, 2014 will decide who will be the next president of Indonesia. (JG Photo/Afriadi Hikmal)

Jakarta. The presidential election on July 9 is widely anticipated by a range of Indonesians from all walks of life, from young people to the elderly. The event is seen as an important moment for Indonesians to choose the next leader to shape the country’s future.

A major factor in who wins that mandate is the sizable bloc of first-time voters who will be eager to exercise their democratic rights in what they see as a landmark decision.

There will be an estimated 67 million first-time voters come balloting day, out of a total voter roll of 190 million in the world’s third biggest democracy, according to Kresnayana Yahya of the Sepuluh Nopember Institute of Technology (ITS) in Surabaya.

He defines first-time voters as those between the ages of 16 and 20 years old. (The minimum legal voting age is 17, although those who are 16 and married may also vote.)

The burning question for the campaign teams and pollsters is whether these newly eligible voters know enough about the two presidential hopefuls — Prabowo Subianto and Joko Widodo — to make an informed decision.

For the voters, themselves, though, the simple thought that they will be going to the ballot box is overwhelmingly the real point.

“I for one would feel proud to play a role in shaping the future of this country,” says Callista Kurniawan, an 18-year-old senior at Sekolah Pelita Harapan Kemang Village.

Jeremy Tobing, 17, says he already know who he will vote for: “Jokowi, because the way he performed in the debates.”

Five debates have been scheduled between the two candidates, but the general consensus from political analysts is that neither candidate has managed to stand out in the two debates that have already transpired.

Different priorities

First-time voters also have different priorities from older voters. While ensuring democratic reforms continue will be important to those who lived through the iron-fisted rule of the strongman Suharto, younger voters tend to take the freedoms in place today for granted, and thus their demands of the candidates will be on more immediate concerns such as better public facilities and an improved standard of living.

“I hope to see Indonesia presenting a more positive image of itself to the world, by imposing penalties on people who intentionally created traffic congestion, because Indonesia is one of the most populous countries in the world,” says Arman Wirawan, a 17-year-old who has just moved back to Jakarta from Houston.

“That way, the world will see Indonesia in a less negative light,” he adds.

Callista says that while cities like Jakarta boast gleaming skyscrapers, she wants to see “stronger buildings that can withstand earthquakes and don’t have leaks here and there.”

On economic matters, she says she wants to see enhanced quality of health care and education for underprivileged people both in the cities and villages.

“That we can reduce poverty and unemployment, and children will have a better future with better skills,” she says. “With lower poverty and unemployment rates, the economy will be much better.”

Arman says that given the constant news about corruption committed by government officials, he hopes to see a leader who can solve Indonesia’s problems effectively.

“I want to know which one of them is a risk taker and which one is just trying to be a president for the sake of it,” he says.

Despite all the hopes and dreams the youths have for the future of Indonesia, not all of the first-time voters know who they will be voting for come July 9.

“I have no idea about who I will vote for since they’re both confident in what they are trying to do and it seems that they have strong beliefs about their point of view,” Arman says. “People have told me the different prospects about the candidates and their future role, and honestly they both have positive and negative sides.”

Social media push

Opinion polls vary on where the two candidates stand at the moment, with some giving Joko a considerable but fast-shrinking lead, while others show Prabowo slightly ahead.

The prospect of the tightest race in Indonesia’s history makes the role of youth voters, many of them still undecided, all that more important.

To raise the young people’s awareness and understanding about the need to go out and vote, politicians and activists have taken to their platform of choice: social media.

An estimated nine out of 10 Indonesians are active on social media, and some 64 million of these users are between the ages of 16 and 24 years old.

Everyone from the campaign teams of both candidates to pollsters and voter education advocates are engaging with social media users on Facebook and Twitter to get them to share their views on the candidates and the election.

Joko’s team, for instance, came up with the hashtag #JKW4P (Jokowi for president), which became a top trending topic on Twitter within a matter of hours after its launch.

Voter education activists have also been busy online trying to drum up interest in the election from youth voters.

One such group is Ayo Vote (“Let’s vote” in Indonesian), which seeks to encourage greater participation in the democratic process amid a general apathy among the country’s youth for politics.

Pingkan Irwin, a co-founder of Ayo Vote, says the purpose of the campaign is to provide information about the presidential and vice presidential candidates as well as to encourage the young people to vote smartly for the best candidate. Pingkan also analyzes social media data for the Jakarta Globe.

 

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