Voters put on plastic gloves as they queue up at a polling station in Surabaya on December 9, 2020. (Photo: Juni Kriswanto / AFP)

Rising Support for Postponing Indonesia’s Elections? What the Data Really Says

Published

Once again, key Indonesian politicians are floating trial balloons on the merits of postponing the 2024 Indonesian presidential election, citing mounting public support for it. But the data suggests otherwise.

After briefly ebbing from the public conversation and the media news cycle, the agenda to extend President Jokowi’s term in office, which was recently broached by Minister Bahlil Lahadalia, has gained renewed momentum. The latest buzz was sparked after the two leaders  of the governing coalition’s Islamic parties, namely National Awakening Party (PKB) Chairman Muhaimin Iskandar and National Mandate Party (PAN) Chairman Zulkifli Hasan, made public statements proposing to postpone the 2024 elections, in effect arguing for extending Jokowi’s term in office until 2027. During a recent meeting with farmers, the General Chairman of Golkar and Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Airlangga Hartarto also let slip a more muted statement of support for extending Jokowi’s term in office for the sake of policy continuity. Nahdlatul Ulama Chairman, Yahya Staquf, joined the caravan saying that the idea of ​​postponing the election ‘made a lot of sense.’

President Jokowi has finally broken his silence on the issue. In a vague doublespeak statement, the President said on March 4 that the proposal was ‘a legitimate discourse in democracy.’ This statement, interpreted as tacit encouragement from the President, has emboldened the proponents to push the agenda further. Hundreds of billboards and banners with colourful designs and identical narratives were installed in many areas nationwide. Indonesia’s most powerful minister, Luhut Pandjaitan, who many suspect is the architect and puppet master behind the idea of postponing the election, finally came out in public to say that if Jokowi’s term in office was extended by three years, Indonesia would be better off. He also claimed to be backed by big data analysis in which 110 million netizens, including Demokrat, Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and Gerindra voters, supported postponing the elections. This is despite the public position of the leaders of those three parties rejecting the idea of postponing the election.

Luhut’s claim appears to be somewhat exaggerated and does not appear to be consistent with the findings from established social media analytic companies. Ismail Fahmi from Drone Emprit thinks the 110 million netizens cited by Luhut is implausible. Based on his analysis, the upper limit of the number of netizens that would be engaging on the topics of three presidential terms for Jokowi or postponing the elections would be no more than 7.7 million Facebook users and slightly more than 12,000 Twitter users. Furthermore, these figures merely reflect the number of unique users discussing the issue, and did not factor in any content analysis or sentiment analysis to estimate the numbers of netizens who were supportive of the idea.  

Drone Emprit’s analysis is also consistent with the findings of big data analytics firm Evello. By expanding the search keywords, Evello found around 693,289 accounts that were talking about elections on social media platforms – these break down into some 17,000 accounts on Twitter, 87,000 on YouTube, 134,000 on Instagram and 454,000 on TikTok. A sentiment analysis shows that only 28 per cent of posts were categorised as “joy.” Conversely, 51.3 per cent were categorised as negative, 27 per cent sadness, 8 per cent anger, 4 per cent disgust and 3 per cent fear. The data suggests that it is highly unlikely that 110 million netizens support the idea of ​​an election postponement, given that the number of unique social media accounts talking about the issue did not even reach one million users. 

The findings of various public opinion surveys also do not suggest strong support for postponing the elections. In fact, most recent polls on this question came to a uniform conclusion: the absolute majority rejected the idea of postponing the elections. 

The argument put forward by PAN’s chairman Zulkifli Hasan that Jokowi’s tenure should be extended in light of his high approval ratings also appears completely unfounded. The Indikator’s survey found that while 71.0 per cent of respondents are satisfied with Jokowi’s performance, 61.6 per cent still think that elections should nonetheless be held on schedule in 2024, even amidst an ongoing pandemic. 

… the more the political elites try to push the discourse and make the case for postponing the elections, the higher the awareness of the public would be, and the stronger the people’s rejection of the idea would be.

When analysed further, resistance to the idea of a term extension for Jokowi also appears to be multi-partisan. In every demographic and every political affiliation base, as well as among Islamic mass organisations, the majority of respondents reject the idea of a presidential term extension. Even among Jokowi’s voters in the 2019 presidential election, the majority rejected the idea of election postponement. Interestingly, the mass electoral bases of the three parties that proposed the postponement, namely PKB, PAN and Golkar, disagreed with the proposals of their respective party elites. This raises the question of whose interests the party elites are really championing.

Interestingly, the findings of a recent LSI survey suggested that more public discussion of the idea in the media does not appear to help in warming up public support. The survey compared the responses among respondents who followed the news on the topic of postponing the elections (48 per cent) with those who did not (52 per cent). In general, both groups of respondents rejected the idea of postponing the elections. Resistance to the idea was even greater among those followed the news on the issue. This suggests that the more the political elites try to push the discourse and make the case for postponing the elections, the higher the awareness of the public would be, and the stronger the people’s rejection of the idea would be. In sum, the findings of the public opinion surveys and big data analysis clearly show that the narrative that there is strong support for postponing the 2024 election should be laid to rest immediately.

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Burhanuddin Muhtadi is Visiting Fellow in the Indonesia Studies Programme, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Insitute.