Joko taps pop culture in fight for millennial vote, Latest World News - The New Paper

Joko taps pop culture in fight for millennial vote

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He makes Game Of Thrones references, wears sneakers to appeal to young voters

JAKARTA: "Mama, just killed a man," sang Indonesian President Joko Widodo during a recent ride in a YouTube celebrity's car while Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody played in the background.

The video, which also shows Mr Joko in a red jacket and jeans chatting about family life and the pressures of running the world's third largest democracy, was the brainchild of a backroom team that has become a vital part of his campaign for re-election on April 17.

The team, comprised mainly of people in their 20s, has a sleek office in central Jakarta. On a recent visit, Reuters saw the team's data of social media activity on the Indonesian presidential election displayed on LED screens covering one wall of a conference room.

Mr Joko's aides said the team uses the data to determine the pop culture references that he will make in his next speech - he has done Games Of Thrones and the Avengers already - or the sneakers he might wear to an event to appeal to young voters.

Mr Joko's sons also sometimes advise him on outfits or speeches, according to one senior campaign aide.

Millennials account for more than one-third of Indonesia's 193 million voters and, Mr Joko and his challenger Prabowo Subianto have ramped up efforts to appeal to them.

"Just because of the sheer size of that voter base, the millennials will play an important role in deciding the direction of the election," said Dr Djayadi Hanan of pollster Saiful Mujani Research & Consulting.

Most opinion polls show Mr Joko, 57, holding a double-digit lead over his opponent. A recent survey by pollster Roy Morgan showed around 60 per cent of young voters favouring Mr Joko, but both campaigns have said wooing the largely apolitical youth is a challenge.

A former furniture-maker who grew up in a riverside slum, Mr Joko's everyman image resonated in 2014 with voters tired of the old guard.

But since Mr Joko took office, aides said young supporters "no longer recognised" him and he was advised to project a more relaxed image.

"Because he has had to become more stately, that 'village boy' narrative was missing this time," said the senior campaign aide, who declined to be identified.

That is where the backroom team came in.

"We are able to see in real-time what does well or what people react negatively to... We were blunt in conveying that to the President," the aide said.

Analysts said Mr Prabowo is less popular among young voters, in part because of a strongman image stemming from his time as special forces chief under authoritarian ruler Suharto. Aides have suggested softening the image of the 67-year-old, so he now wears a khaki shirt and aviator sunglasses at campaign rallies.

"It was rare to see his lighter side and sense of humour. We have tried to expose that side of him," said campaign spokesman Dahnil Anzar.

Mr Prabowo's team has also posted a photograph of him with his cat, which was popular online. The cat now has its own Instagram account.

Mr Prabowo's running mate, businessman and amateur marathon runner Sandiaga Uno, was chosen in part for his massive appeal with young and female voters.

As the keynote speaker at an event for young entrepreneurs, Mr Uno, 49, joined a group of breakdancers onstage before kicking footballs into a crowd of university students.

His popularity and extensive campaigning across the country has helped boost Mr Prabowo's electability, aides said.

Nevertheless, many young voters want policy pledges to address job creation and youth unemployment, not campaign gimmicks.

Unemployment in Indonesia is among the highest in South-east Asia, and many of those without jobs are graduates of vocational schools. - REUTERS