Published daily by the Lowy Institute

New media for old elites in Indonesia

New media for old elites in Indonesia
Published 17 Jan 2014 

The social media mudslinging has begun ahead of Indonesia's presidential election this year, with an unlikely candidate taking some of the first shots: Kristiani Herawati, better known as Ani Yudhoyono.

As flood waters surged across the eastern and western wards of Jakarta this week, leading to at least five deaths, the wife of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono casually uploaded a happy snap of her grandson on Instagram via her account, @aniyudhoyono.

One user, @zhafirapsp, called her out for her insensitivity, albeit with an emoticon smile: 'while the people are dealing with flooding, the first lady is instead busy with her instagram account :))'.

Ani Yudhoyono gave a quick counter-comment: '@zhafirapsp Where are Jokowi and Ahok's wives? Why get angry with me?'

Jokowi and Ahok, or Joko Widodo and Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, used social media to great effect to secure victory in Jakarta's gubernatorial election in 2012. Their campaign was so effective, in fact, that Jokowi's popularity remains high more than a year into his governorship, with polls tipping him to win the 2014 presidential elections without him even announcing his candidacy.

The Jakarta campaign, which involved saturated social media promotion, viral games and videos, and a pair of no-nonsense plaid shirts, won over the youth vote, a key constituency in demographically young Indonesia.

But it is not the tech-savvy youths of Indonesia who are running for president. The older figures in politics, who are accustomed to one-way media communication, are struggling to come to grips with the interactive nature of social media. [fold]

President Yudhoyono, who is in his final term, only joined Twitter in March last year (@SBYudhoyono), and is now supplying his followers with a stream of dull cabinet meeting updates via a team of staff. 

Aburizal Bakrie, chairman of former president Suharto's Golkar Party, has literally invested in social media, with his Bakrie Group taking a stake in the San Francisco-based social media platform Path. The move has backfired for his online popularity in some circles, with critics who accuse the Bakrie Group of involvement in the 2006 Sidoarjo mud-flow disaster taking up the hashtag #NoPath4Me.

Megawati Sukarnoputri, president from 2001-2004, has kept a low profile online, with many speculating that she will soon pass the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) presidential candidacy on to Jokowi.

Meanwhile, Gerindra candidate Prabowo Subianto has been a surprise success on social media, garnering almost 4 million 'likes' on his Facebook page. Commentators have suggested that Prabowo's support base is simply too young to remember the former general's actions in 1998, when he is alleged to have committed human rights abuses in East Timor and supported violent riots against Chinese Indonesians in Jakarta.

Ani Yudhoyono's outburst on Instagram this week was not her first, though she has not previously been known to mention other political figures (or their wives). Her hostile response reflects the attitude of a ruling elite unused to direct public communication and the direct criticism that can follow.

And with observers predicting a huge sway for social media in this year's election, failure of the old elites to adapt to new media could spell a major change for Indonesia's leadership.

Photo by Flickr user Thompson Rivers.

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