More than 200 million voters are expected to head to the polls Wednesday to choose Indonesia’s next leader. The world’s third-largest democracy and fourth-largest population — home to more than 275 million people — will elect a new president and vice president from three pairs of contenders. With a majority of the electorate under 40 years of age, the candidates are all vying for young voters to claim victory.
As Election Day nears, CNN analyzed the electorate makeup and what could be driving the voting decisions of young Indonesians, including jobs, climate change and pollution as well as high phone and social media usage.
How much of Indonesia’s young population will turn out?
Generation Z and Millennials — the generations making up those under 40 — represent about 56% of the total eligible voting population, according to the Indonesian General Elections Commission.
Seventy-five percent of Indonesia’s population — about 205 million people — is expected to vote Wednesday, according to the election commission, with 106 million of those expected voters under age 40 — or 52% of anticipated voters.
Indonesia holds presidential elections every five years. Since incumbent President Joko Widodo is term-limited, 2024 will mark the first new leader in 10 years. Voter turnout during the 2019 election was 82% of the total electorate — the lowest abstention rate since the country started holding presidential elections in 2004.
All three candidates in this election are over the age of 50. Ganjar Pranowo, the former governor of Central Java and the ruling party’s nominee, is 55, and Anies Baswedan, former governor of Jakarta, is 54. Both have selected vice presidential candidates who are their contemporaries in age, even slightly older.
Only the frontrunner, Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, who is 72, selected a vice presidential candidate under the age of 40 — Gibran Rakabuming Raka, 36. Raka is also current president Widodo’s son. CNN Indonesia reported that Subianto is leading in the polls with the overall electorate, as well as with young voters, citing several surveys conducted in January.
What many young people care about
The main concerns for young Indonesians are quality of life, corruption, institutional integrity and the environment, including air pollution, said Abigail Limuria, co-founder of Bijak Memilih, an independent, youth-led movement providing information on political parties, issues and candidates to voters.
Economic issues — particularly social welfare and unemployment — were among the top issues of 1,200 voters aged 17-39 surveyed in 2022 by Jakarta-based think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Indonesia’s unemployment rate was 3.5% in 2022, lower than the estimated global average from the International Labour Organization. However, about 14% of Indonesians aged 15 to 24 were jobless, according to the same data.
Nearly 60% of the nation’s workforce is in informal sectors, which includes domestic workers, street vendors and app-based gig workers who lack social protections, according to 2022 data from Indonesia’s Central Statistics Agency. The average monthly net income for informal workers is about $125 — 40% lower than Indonesia’s average national wage.
“The two most pressing issues for young Indonesians are finding jobs and education,” said Yoes Kenawas, a Northwestern University political science doctoral candidate studying Indonesian elections, who also told CNN the job market is limited and competitive.
In addition to these economic concerns, more young voters also now worry about climate change.
Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, is the world’s most polluted city, according to 2023 data from the Swiss company IQAir.
The youth are demanding not just “good character” but also a “certain level of competency” from the next government to solve issues, according to Limuria, the activist and founder of Bijak Memilih, in an interview with CNN.
“Demands for good public transport, taking the climate crisis seriously, and to address systemic injustice are beginning to surface,” she said.
The social media battleground
Nearly 80% of people in Indonesia are connected to the internet and people aged 16 to 64 spend an average of more than three hours a day on social media, according to the We Are Social 2023 Digital Report, which provides global social media insights. Indonesians also spend more time on their mobile phones on average than any other group in the world.
Sixty percent of voters under 40 said social media was their primary source for information, according to the 2022 CSIS survey, followed by television at 40%.
This has turned TikTok and Instagram — the two most popular social platforms for Indonesians — into “the battleground in the digital world” for this election, Kenawas said.
Candidates are scrambling for young voters’ attention on social media. Here’s a roundup of each of the top three presidential candidates’ tactics:
Previously, Subianto was known as a polarizing figure who projects a strongman image. After losing to Widodo in the last two elections, Subianto contested the results, filing lawsuits with Indonesia’s constitutional court, but was unsuccessful both times.
He’s been accused of human rights violations, including the kidnapping of activists during the 1998 mass protests in Indonesia, while serving in the army. While he’s denied the allegations, human rights activists contend he has not been held accountable for his purported acts.
Compared to the other two candidates, Subianto garnered the most attention from the general public on social media following the final presidential debate on February 4. But when it came to getting positive sentiment, he came in last, CNN Indonesia reported.
Wednesday’s results will potentially offer a verdict on how effective social media campaigns have been in addressing young voters’ worries.
There is a concern that young voters could get trapped in “a political campaign that is relying on gimmicks,” Kenawas said.