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Indonesia’s presidential race is being fought with Facebook updates and “Happy” sing-alongs

Reuters/Beawiharta
Campaigning on Facebook means not having to hold as many babies.
By Lily Kuo
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The contest to see who will govern the world’s third largest democracy officially started this week in Indonesia, and as befits one of the world’s social media hotspots, the war is already being waged over Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

With 65 million registered users, Indonesia is Facebook’s fourth-largest market; it is Twitter’s third-largest country in terms of active monthly users. Even though only 28% of Indonesians are on the internet, it’s already home to about 71 million internet users, more than the entire population of the United Kingdom. Indonesians under 30, who make up a third of eligible voters, are disproportionately heavy social media users.

No wonder then that both contenders, Jakarta governor Joko Widodo and ex-general Prabowo Subianto, have launched serious campaigns to appeal to voters on these platforms before the July 9 election.

Here’s a look at how they’re doing.

Prabowo Subianto

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Prabowo, a general during the military dictatorship of Suharto, is something of an old-style Indonesian politician. Campaigning on an image of strength, nationalism, and commitment to Muslim ideals—Indonesia is home to a fifth of the world’s Muslims—he’s appealing to older, traditional voters.

Photos of his days as a young soldier, messages about his father—a prominent economist and former finance minister—as well as pictures of the candidate praying have gained him a following of over five million users on Facebook. A surge in popularity and a last-minute coalition partner helped Prabowo become a viable contender against frontrunner Jokowi last month.

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Perhaps to compete with his rival, whose campaign for governor of Jakarta was boosted by a remix of a One Direction song posted n YouTube, Prabowo recently posted his own montage of supporters dancing to the song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams:

Joko Widowo

Joko Widowo, better known as just “Jokowi,” has been described as the first Indonesian politician to effectively use social media in an election. During his 2012 bid for the governorship of Jakarta, Jokowi managed to galvanize supporters, despite the fact that he was outside of the capital, through videos and Twitter. The overall frontrunner also holds a decided edge on Twitter, with 1.5 million followers compared to Prabowo’s 808,000.

Jokowi, a former furniture businessman, is using his Facebook page to promote his populist man image—his profile picture shows him in his signature red and blue checkered shirt.

The governor is thought to represent a new kind of politics that’s more resistant to corruption. His Facebook page features a video of him railing against corruption, photos of him visiting the province of Papua, a less developed region that’s been at odds with the Indonesian government for decades. One of his most popular posts was a post celebrating Ascension Day, a nod to the country’s Christians, who are Indonesia’s second largest religious group.

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