Indonesia Elections 2014: New campaign style - the blusukan

Indonesia Elections 2014: New campaign style - the blusukan
Democratic Party MP candidate Ni Luh Renanda Laksita (centre) getting to know residents during door-to-door visits or the blusukan in a Bali village.

BALI - Former model and TV host Ni Luh Renanda Laksita, 30, is running for a national Parliament seat from Bali and could probably pull in the crowds were she to hold a big rally.

But the boutique owner and her Democratic Party have opted to go door-to-door and hold small meetings instead, a trend mirrored across political parties across Indonesia.

"Today's voters are smarter. They don't always vote based on the party, because voters look at the individual figures," she told The Straits Times.

"This is why we have to hit the ground and meet them directly - give them a chance to get to know us."

Parties are generally avoiding large-scale rallies this time, opting instead for a new style of campaigning: the blusukan, or door- to-door visits, from one neighbourhood or village to another.

And it is not just due to tighter restrictions.

Such visits have always been carried out in the background, but gained popularity after Mr Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, the presidential candidate for the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P), made them part of his management style as Jakarta governor to see and fix problems on the ground first-hand.

Residents were delighted and national media attention followed.

Now, such visits have become a mainstay of campaigns, and parties across the board say it is much more effective in winning over voters.

"Usually people who come to a big rally are attracted to the music and pop singers, not to the parties. Big rallies would not create attachment between voters and the political party. And big rallies are of course expensive," Mr Ali Nurdin, vice-rector of Banten's Mathla'ul Anwar University, told The Straits Times.

Mr Yuswar Hidayatullah, a Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) MP hopeful in South Sumatra, certainly thinks so.

Home visits, he said, touch the hearts and are remembered by voters, while big rallies with musicians and performers only attract crowds.

Last week, the Democratic Party cancelled a planned mass rally in Rangkasbitung regency, Banten, three hours west of Jakarta, and members travelled in groups to several villages in the area instead.

Voters say this change in tactic by those fighting to lead them is welcome. Mr Muhamad Ali, 49, a parking attendant in Rangkasbitung, said a visit by Mr Joko, during which the governor climbed into a sewer to check on blockages, left him impressed: "We never saw a governor do that before."

Even President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who has been campaigning for his Democratic Party, has taken to these visits - which are often unannounced to lend spontaneity.

On Monday afternoon, Dr Yudhoyono and his family visited Trans Studio Mall in Bandung, and were mobbed by shoppers who wanted to shake their hands and pose for photographs with them.

During her visit to Kubu village in eastern Bali, Ms Renanda met 40 residents and local leaders. They told her how hard it was to afford books, uniforms and transport for their school-going children.

She promised to draft a law to ensure that children from poor families have school-going expenses covered so they can stay in school, beyond just free education at present.

Kubu resident Ketut Putra Dana, 33, said Ms Renanda was the first candidate to have ever visited his village, and this shows how serious she was about helping them.

"We don't trust the promises that are put on posters, or on TV ads," he said.

This article was published on April 4 in The Straits Times.

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