Debates on TV drawing young voters

Young Indonesians have been glued to the TV lately, not just because the football World Cup is on.

It is presidential election season as well, and they were also engaging in political "nobar", short for "nonton bareng" or "communal viewing", watching the TV debates of the two candidates, in a poll that is becoming the closest ever in Indonesia.

At the second of five debates on Sunday night, one cafe in South Jakarta called Coffee Institute saw a full house, as three times the number expected turned up to watch the debate projected on a white screen as they sipped lattes and munched on fries.

"We want to gather the young to get interested in come together to discuss and exchange opinions. There is lack of such space for young Indonesians," said Mr Abdul Qowi, 26, chief editor of Ayo Vote, a volunteer-run portal engaging youth to discuss politics and to vote, which organised the viewing.

With three weeks left before the July 9 presidential election, big screens are now being set up in cafes and television sets switched on in small warung or food stalls across the capital, with viewers having their own discussions during the live TV debates.

Of the 186 million eligible voters, 30 per cent are aged between 17 and 29 years old, a significant vote bank.

They are likely to be exposed to the social media campaigns of the candidates that have intensified as the gap narrows between frontrunner Joko Widodo, the Jakarta governor, and former special forces general Subianto Prabowo.

The latest survey by Pol-Tracking Institute released on Sunday showed that the support from undergraduates for Mr Prabowo edged out Mr Joko, at 48.3 per cent to 40.4 per cent.

Mr Disna Harvens, 23, Ayo Vote's content editor, says some youth are inspired by a firm leader, with Mr Prabowo seen by Indonesians to be one.

"They were too young to feel the trauma of the kidnappings of student activists in 1998, incidents Mr Prabowo was linked with," he said.

Inspired by the World Cup, the organisers held pre-debate commentaries, "time-out" discussions during the advertisement breaks, and called for score ratings at the end of the debate.

Sunday's debate drew mixed reviews with a consensus that the score should be 1-1.

"Mr Prabowo seems more certain of his plans but we need more details on how he will implement them. Mr Joko seems to have substance, but keeps repeating points like his health and education programmes," said education improvement facilitator Angga Putra Fidrian, 25.

Others say they need more time to decide whom to vote for.

Research assistant Andhyta Utami, 22, said: "They are both not brave enough to take extreme sides in the debate, so now I am not as sure as I was before as both presidential candidates are switching places."

This article was first published on June 17, 2014.
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