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Indonesia's presidential candidates use dance, cats, memes to appeal to netizens ahead of Feb polls

Straits Times - November 21, 2023

Hariz Baharudin, Jakarta – As Indonesia gears up for the upcoming presidential election, candidates have already embarked on unconventional strategies to capture the attention of voters using the Internet staples of dance and cats. One even got traction after netizens made memes of him.

More than 200 million people are eligible to vote in the election on Feb 14, 2024, when Indonesia will choose a new leader. President Joko Widodo cannot run for another term.

The three pairs in the contest are former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan, 54, and his running mate, former minister Muhaimin Iskandar, 57; former Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo, 55, and Chief Security Minister Mahfud MD, 66; and Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto, 72, and Solo Mayor Gibran Rakabuming Raka, 36, the elder son of Mr Widodo.

Although official campaigning kicks off on Nov 28 and runs until Feb 10, 2024, the candidates have already set the digital stage abuzz with their early forays into social media.

Mr Prabowo has been filmed on several occasions dancing, the latest being on Nov 14 when he received his serial number at the General Election Commission (KPU) office, much to the delight of his supporters who made the videos go viral.

He has busted similar moves during his birthday celebration on Oct 17, as well as when he went to register his candidacy at the KPU a few days later.

The minister, who will be trying to become president for the third time, explained in a talk show on Nov 19 that his dancing is inspired by his grandfather, who used to do the same when he was happy.

According to him, his grandfather was from Banyumas in central Java and there was no television or any form of entertainment there, except for dancing.

"So every time there is good news or happy news, he would always dance like that," said Mr Prabowo.

Indonesian media outlets regularly produce reports containing photos and videos of the minister whenever he dances, and clips of these moments get thousands of views online.

For Mr Anies, cats have been one of his tools of choice to appeal to voters.

The long-time politician, who has been active in the scene for more than a decade, has amassed more than six million followers on his Instagram account @aniesbaswedan, while a separate account for his four cats @pawswedan has a follower count of more than 22,000.

That account describes itself as the "Baswedan cat family" and has stories, posts, as well as highlights of Mr Anies's four cats: Aslan, Lego, Snowball and Oboy.

The cats themselves have grabbed their own headlines, such as after posts on the account showed Aslan giving a "cat massage" to Mr Anies, and when a book series was published in July about Lego, which has only three legs.

Two videos of Aslan giving Mr Anies massages have garnered a combined viewership of more than 10 million.

A running gag on @pawswedan is how the four cats are competing to become "pawsiden", a play on the Bahasa spelling of the word "president".

The team managing the account also makes topical jokes and references in the posts, uploading photos of the cats calling for Palestine to be freed and parodying new superhero film The Marvels.

Mr Ganjar is not known for dancing or posting pictures of his pets on social media, but he has still generated buzz among netizens over the choice of Mr Mahfud as the second name on his ticket.

The question of who will be Mr Ganjar's running mate was the subject of intense speculation online for many months after the former governor was named as the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle's presidential candidate in April.

The addition of Mr Mahfud to the campaign was announced only on Oct 18, a day before they went to register at KPU.

The Internet wasted no time in responding to this pairing, and memes started circulating soon after the announcement.

One popular meme is a play on the fast food chain Bakmi GM, referring to the first letter of the pair's names.

Netizens have also started making allusions to the food delivery service GoFood in tweets and posts about the pair, a play on the term GoFud or GaFud that is derived from their names as well.

"Instead of GoFood, it's better to choose GaFud, Ganjar Mahfud," said user @sunimkato on social media platform X.

Mr Dedi Dinarto, lead Indonesia analyst at public policy advisory firm Global Counsel, told The Straits Times that candidates like Mr Prabowo and Mr Anies have decided to utilise easy-to-remember symbols, like dance and pets, so that they are readily shareable on social media platforms.

It remains uncertain, however, whether this approach effectively influences voters, Mr Dedi said, adding that elections in Indonesia are a complicated matter that are not just influenced by policy choices or campaign manifestos.

"Indonesian electoral choices are influenced by various factors such as geographical representation, religious/racial identity, personal networks, and money politics. The behaviour of electorates in Indonesia are much more complex."

Source: https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/indonesia-s-presidential-candidates-use-dance-cats-and-memes-to-appeal-to-netizens-ahead-of-feb-electio