Commentary: Jokowi's biggest challenge to re-election? A social media campaign against him

Commentary: Jokowi's biggest challenge to re-election? A social media campaign against him

A brewing social media campaign encouraging Indonesians not to vote for President Joko Widodo may sway enough voters to put out his re-election bid, says one observer.

jokowi wefie (1)
File photo of Indonesian President Joko Widodo taking a picture with a group of supporters. (Photo: AFP)

SINGAPORE: The rising popularity of a social media campaign opposing Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s bid for re-election next year has met with backlash from Jokowi's  supporters and the police. 

The campaign is known as #2019GantiPresiden or #2019ChangePresident.

The president’s supporters, local police and the Regional National Intelligence Agency have thwarted recent events to promote the campaign in Pekanbaru and Surabaya. This has fueled accusations that state security agencies are not being impartial.

Such reactions from Jokowi’s camp demonstrates a growing fear that the campaign might prevent the president from being re-elected next year.

Launched in March this year, the movement has been expanding and is poised to change the map of political support at the grassroots level ahead of the 2019 presidential election.

Given the circumstances, understanding the significance of #2019ChangePresident and its potential to be a a game-changer in the next presidential election is crucial.


Mardani Ali Sera, a politician from the opposition Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), initiated the #2019ChangePresident movement through a series of tweets in March 2018. His motive was to look for an alternative to Jokowi.

The movement was created to challenge the “Jokowi Dua Periode” (Jokowi for Two Terms) campaign declared by a voluntary group of Jokowi supporters. This group, which formed Jokowi’s National Secretariat, had played a crucial role in building popular support for Jokowi in the 2014 presidential election.

The #2019ChangePresident campaign has gained support from other opposition parties, including Gerindra and Partai Amanat Nasional (PAN). It is obvious that the movement supports the candidacy of Gerindra’s chairman, Prabowo Subianto, who will again compete with Jokowi for the presidency in 2019.

Jokowi and Prabowo
Joko Widodo (right) and Prabowo Subianto during the 2014 presidential election campaign. (Photo: AFP/ROMEO GACAD)

READ: Cards stacked against Jokowi in Indonesia's new political landscape, a commentary

Besides support from political parties, the movement has also received financial backing from various sources - including Rp40 million (US$2,733) from singer-turned-politician Neno Warisman and financial contributions from other sympathisers. 

Neno, who is also a PKS politician, has been a vocal voice behind the #2019ChangePresident campaign. She has been travelling throughout Indonesia to promote the campaign.


Activists behind the #2019ChangePresident campaign have launched well-organised and well-structured strategies to criticise Jokowi’s administration.

They have used religious and economic issues to attack the president. For example, they have accused Jokowi of allowing the persecution of ulama (Muslim religious leaders) and discrimination against Muslims, and blamed him for the higher prices of staple food.

READ: Indonesian election season is a gauge of rise of political Islam

Another strategy involves music. Composer Johny Alang has created an anthem for the #2019ChangePresident movement, which has been promoted by politicians from opposition parties and is sung by sympathisers loudly at rallies.

Another strategy is the use of social media platforms to disseminate illustrations attacking the incumbent government’s policies. At the same time, #2019ChangePresident supporters promote content designed to improve the popularity of Prabowo.

While the effectiveness of the #2019ChangePresident strategies is hard to calculate, a big data company Drone Emprit found that the movement has attracted more social media users than Jokowi’s campaign.

FILE PHOTO: A man reads tweets on his phone in front of a displayed Twitter logo in Bordeaux, south
A man reads tweets on his phone in front of a displayed Twitter logo. (File Photo: REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/Illustration)

#2019ChangePresident activists at national and local levels have been holding rallies in different parts of Indonesia. 

The first rally was staged in Solo. In the following weeks, similar rallies were staged outside Java, including Medan, Makassar and Batam.

My latest finding shows the successful rally in Batam was a result of solid collaboration between #2019ChangePresident activists in Jakarta and a local cleric in Batam.

Due to strong partnerships between numerous politicians from Gerindra, PAN, PKS and local leaders, the movement enjoyed the same successes in Medan and Makassar.


Unlike the #2019ChangePresident movement, Jokowi’s camp seems to be more passive.

Jokowi’s National Secretariat announced a “#Jokowi2Periode” (#Jokowi2Terms) campaign in February 2018. But there has been no grassroots movement to champion the campaign.

Jokowi’s campaign also lacks coordination and has not been as effective as #2019ChangePresident. 

Adding to #Jokowi2Terms, Jokowi’s camp has created numerous tags, including #2019TetapJokowi (#2019StillJokowi), #DiaSibukKerja (#HeIsBusyWorking) and #JokowiTetapPresiden2019 (#JokowiRemainsPresident2019) - demonstrating some level of inconsistency in spreading its political messages.

Jokowi’s supporters also lack substantial political support from political parties. Golkar is the only political party that has created a volunteer-based support group for Jokowi’s re-election bid, called Relawan Golkar-Jokowi (GoJo Volunteers).

Jokowi initially downplayed the #2019ChangePresident movement. He said in a fiery speech that such a smear campaign would not be enough to defeat him.

However, as the #2019ChangePresident movement expanded, Jokowi’s camp started to organise counter-rallies to challenge their opponents.

People walk under a large Indonesian flag as they take part in a rally in Jakarta
People gesture as they walk under a large Indonesian flag as they take part in a rally, in Jakarta, Indonesia November 19, 2016. (Photo: REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)

With their own rallies, Jokowi supporters have managed to foil their opponents’ campaign in several cities. Supporters at one in Pekanbaru ended up sending #2019ChangePresident activists, including Neno, on a plane back to Jakarta.

Other rallies resulted in clashes between Jokowi’s supporters and their opponents. The recent clashes in Surabaya and Pekanbaru forced police to intervene and stop #2019ChangePresident events in several cities due to security concerns.

Jokowi’s female supporters grouped in Emak-Emak Militan Jokowi (Jokowi’s Militant Mothers) recently filed a lawsuit against the #2019ChangePresident movement, arguing that the campaign contains hate speech and therefore violates the Information and Electronic Transaction Law.

The different reactions to the #2019ChangePresident campaign from the Jokowi camp show how fragmented his supporters are and that they lack a comprehensive strategy.


As rivalries between various groups heat up, Jokowi’s supporters may need to cool down. Instead of engaging in violent protests to stop the opposition's campaign, they should consolidate their movement by building affiliations and establish a coalition of pro-Jokowi political parties to create a consistent public narrative.

For Jokowi, a more comprehensive strategy to counter-balance the influence of #2019ChangePresident will be important. Without such a strategy, the #2019ChangePresident movement may potentially sway enough voters to stop him from being re-elected.

Dedi Dinarto is research associate with the Indonesia Programme at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Nanyang Technological University. This commentary first appeared on The Conversation.

Source: CNA/nr(sl)