Sun, 13 Jun 2004

Program gets young into the swing of voting

Hera Diani, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Suara kamu ngaruh banget! -- "your voice counts a lot" -- was read and heard all over the west plaza area of Senayan sports complex last week, amid the din of loud music and people's chatter.

Around the clock from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. last Saturday, MTV Indonesia staged MTV Rock the Vote, a program aimed at educating first-time voters for this year's presidential election, the first direct election of the country's leader. People voted for their legislative candidates on April 5 and will vote for presidential candidates on July 5 (in the event that there is no clear winner, a second round will be held on Sept. 20).

Through music performances and other activities, the MTV audience was coaxed to exercise their right to vote, to do it right and nonviolently.

"This event is part of a series of programs we have in order to educate young people, especially first-time voters aged between 17 and 22 years old, which is also within the range of our target audience," MTV Indonesia's communications manager Haswati Handrazfil said.

Performers, from noted local bands bip, Pas band and Seurieus, to indie bands, singer Tere and popular Malaysian rapper duo Too Phat, took part.

Food stalls and booths where people could have tattoos, body piercing and hair braiding were sprawled throughout the area. Other activities included free style basketball, a fire juggler, a BMX attraction, capoeira, cheerleaders and dancers.

From the stage, the artists and the hosts -- VJs Nirina and Arie -- provided a constant stream of information and messages about the election, like how to vote wisely instead of simply going through the motions and picking any old candidate, and put on an election simulation on stage.

Rock the Vote is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization which was established in 1990 in the United States to promote freedom of speech and artistic expression.

The organization engages youth in the political process by incorporating the entertainment community and youth culture into its activities, "to make political participation cool".

The goal of the organization's campaigns and activities is to increase youth voter turnout. However, the work does not end when the polls close, as Rock the Vote wants to empower young people to create positive social and political change in their lives and communities.

MTV is a permanent partner of Rock the Vote, and MTV US has two other programs to increase youth political participation: MTV Choose or Lose and MTV Fight for Your Rights.

Here in Indonesia, the Rock the Vote program began in the middle of March, and is a joint venture between MTV Indonesia, the General Elections Committee (KPU), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and corporate partners.

"We had a similar program in the Philippines recently, and it was successful. We believe that people have the right to exercise their right. The idea is to come together and have fun. It's part of the process for leadership of the country," said Lesley Desker, MTV Indonesia's content and creative director.

Messages and technical information, as well as PSAs about the elections in teen lingo, are frequently aired on MTV Indonesia or spread through the station's off-air activities.

The channel also interviews people all over the country or Indonesians living abroad for their opinions and to gauge what they know about the elections.

"This program, however, is not a means for a presidential or party campaign. From the very beginning, we have insisted that it is an educational program for first-time voters, not a campaign. So, there will be no flyers or brochures on presidential candidates," said KPU member Valina Singka Subekti.

According to Valina, the number of first-time voters in this year's election is significant, with around 22.1 million voters registered for the legislative election.

There has been an increase of some 700,000 people for July's presidential election, or a total of around 22.8 million first- time voters.

There were over 147 million people eligible to vote across the country in the April 5 election, and 154 million people for the July 5 election.

"The number of first-time voters is significant and influential, that's why KPU pays a lot of attention to it. We need MTV to reach them, so that they do it right.. It's more about technical problems," Valina said.

MTV's role, she added, was especially important in reducing the number of invalid votes, which was estimated at around 8.8 percent nationwide in the April 5 election.

"There has yet to be research showing which age group contributes more to the number of invalid votes. However, we hope that first-time voters don't contribute much to the numbers," she said.

Reaching 13 million households, MTV is a powerful media for young people, and an estimated 40,000 people visited the Senayan event.

The effectivity of Rock the Vote in getting young people out to polling stations has yet to be measured in qualitative number, but according to Haswati, it seems that young people's awareness has increased from the off-air activities.

Still, many of those interviewed by the station were unaware of the election dates, and those in the audience for the music performances said they were not aware of the Rock the Vote program either.

"I just came here to see the bands," said Alfred, 16.

Like Alfred, Rully, 23, also came merely to see the performances. "But I vote, of course. Because I feel like I have the right to vote," he said.

Successful or not, the program is a good start to increase youth political participation. The last thing we need is an apathetic younger generation whose main choice is which mall to hang out at.


MTV Rock the Vote will be aired at 9 p.m. on MTV Indonesia on June 20, 27 and July 4.