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From K-pop to ‘Top Gun,’ Indonesia's presidential hopefuls battle it out with TikTok gimmicks

JAKARTA — Indonesia's presidential hopefuls are pulling out all stops to win over voters on social media ahead of the Feb. 14 election.

In the country of 274 million, millennials and Gen Z voters make up 56.5% of the electorate — and campaigning on social media is heating up.

One platform in particular has emerged as a key battleground: TikTok.

"In 2019, it was the Instagram election. This time it's the TikTok election," says Aryo Seno Bagaskoro, a young spokesperson for the presidential campaign of Ganjar Pranowo, the former governor of Central Java.

With 125 million monthly active users, Indonesia is TikTok's second biggest market, making the platform key for Indonesians trying to get news and updates about the election.

All three candidates have taken note and are churning out youth-oriented content on TikTok, with Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto dancing for the crowds, the former governor of Jakarta Anies Baswedan courting K-pop fans, and former Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo promoting penguin-related posts.

For Prabowo, the clear frontrunner who's polling in the mid-40s, the messaging on TikTok fits into the wider "gemoy," or cute, image of his presidential campaign.

The approach is markedly different from the macho image adopted by 72-year-old during his previous runs for the presidency in 2014 and 2019.

Rather than videos of him arriving at rallies on the back of stallions and rousing crowds with nationalist speeches, the most popular content on TikTok has portrayed him as having a sensitive — even vulnerable — side.

One of the most popular campaign posts on TikTok, with 49 million views, appeared to show Prabowo on the verge of tears after tough questioning in the second presidential debate. Many supporters of