Political Parties and their ‘Vote-Getter’ Celebrities

Wearing a red jacket with the sleeves rolled up, stand-up comedian Ronny Imanuel, popularly known as Mongol Stres, sparked laughter from President Joko Widodo as he performed during the national meeting of Indonesian Solidarity Party (Partai Solidaritas Indonesia/PSI) at the Djakarta Theatre, Central Jakarta, on Tuesday, January 31, 2023. The event they called ‘Kopdarnas’, an abbreviation of ‘kopi darat nasional’ or national gathering, was held to celebrate the party’s 8th anniversary.

The Manado-native comedian began his joke by explaining the conditions of his hometown then and now, about the poor signals of cellular telephones in some areas. He said the situation has gradually improved in the last 10 years. “The signal in Sanger is now 4G. But in the past, you could barely receive an SMS in real-time,” said the man who joined PSI on November 23, 2021.

“This happened when somebody sent messages telling people that there would be a regent inauguration. The messages were sent on Monday, but were only delivered on Wednesday!” he said to the bursting laughter of the audience, including President Jokowi.

Five months after the event, Mongol registered as a legislative candidate. He will compete to garner the majority of votes in the electoral district of North Sulawesi, his birthplace. He is running with other PSI cadres from the entertainment industry, including Doadibadai Hollo, also known as Badai Kerispatih, Helmy Yahya, and Giring Ganesha, former lead singer of Nidji, who is now serving as PSI’s chairman.

On Tuesday, July 25, several celebrity candidates who will run in the legislative elections expressed their ideas at the House of Representatives Complex in Senayan, Jakarta. Badai, the former keyboardist of Kerispatih band, was one of them.

Badai stated that if he passes to become a council member, he would fight for the welfare of artists, including in the issue of music royalties. “Is the state being too prudent in making the prevailing regulations or is the state being indifferent about art issues? Maybe the issues of music are not as sexy as corruption,” he questioned.

Even so, Badai realizes the challenge of getting the majority of votes is tough. Moreover, artist or celebrity candidates are often being underestimated by the public when they participate in a political contest. He was aware that the negative stigma of artist candidates is very strong, “However, it is our work to convince the public that we are clean politicians. We have clear ideas and programs for the prosperity of the people. For this reason, I’ve been trying to go to the communities, down to the markets, doing blusukan (impromptu visits) and talked to the people,” Badai explained after singing a piece of the song “Demi Cinta ” popularized by Kerispatih.

Mongol and Badai are only a few of the candidates promoted by PSI. Founded in 2014, the party has registered at least 580 legislative candidates in various regions with a 30 percent female representation rate. In the 2024 elections, PSI has set a target of being able to win 15 million votes. Therefore, according to the party’s central board spokesperson, Sigit Widodo, the process of recruiting Mongol and hundreds of other cadres was carried out meticulously.

As a party that claims to be anti-corruption and in favor of pluralism, PSI claims to have carried out a tight screening process. In conducting this phase, the party involved communication and political experts, so that the candidates could develop their respective work programs. Mongol, for example, wants to strive for the country’s creative industry to be accepted in other countries. “Also, the state should guarantee the welfare of workers in the entertainment and creative industry,” he explained about his mission on Thursday, July 6, 2023.

“We accept candidates with clear programs. Every candidate should make themselves clear about what they would do when they become a legislative member. Mongol has made himself clear. So we declare that he has passed the selection,” Sigit said.

PSI Chairman, Giring Ganesha, said that the point of some public figures joining PSI was not merely to become vote getters, but also because of their similarities in vision and mission. “The people of the PSI see it this way: ‘Yes, I am an artist. But here, I have been given the space, the opportunity [to prove] that an artist can become chairman. That means PSI sees me not as a vote getter,” Giring said at the PSI central board office on Monday, January 16, 2023.


Previously, the General Elections Commission (KPU) had selected 24 political parties as participants in the 2024 elections, consisting of 18 national parties, and 6 local political parties. There are more participating parties in the 2024 elections than in 2019, which was 16 political parties. These parties will compete for votes from 204,807,222 people registered in the permanent voter list on the General Election on Wednesday, February 14, 2024.

To achieve the hat trick of being the winner of the 2014 Election, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan/PDIP) opens the door to volunteers, figures, and celebrities. “We invite them. We choose them based on their stature as artists. So they’re kind of being ‘half-recruited’,” said the leader of the Regional Office of PDIP Yogyakarta, Bambang Prastowo on Monday, July 3, 2023.

Having a high level of popularity among the public is the first and foremost criteria for celebrities to be recruited as cadres by the PDIP.  In addition, they must be able to invite people to vote and join the party. The party also prefer those who are able to sing and have special skills. Other criteria include having a membership card, a good track record, and proper education,” he said.

The strategy of recruiting celebrities has actually been carried out by PDIP for a long time. The party recruits mayors, regents, governors, ministers, retired army or police generals, athletes, and activists who are prominent and have significantly large masses. “The goal is to become a vote getter to garner the most votes for us. Yes. that’s PDIP’s strategy,” said Bambang.

However, the involvement of celebrities does not always have a significant impact on vote gain. One of the determining factors is how the party chooses the right electoral district. Bambang gave an example when PDIP endorsed Krisdayanti in the Electoral District V in East Java, where the candidate was born and raised. “The public already knows Krisdayanti as a celebrity. So, the candidates’ influence depends on their popularity and credibility. Generally, it also depends on the regional elections,” he said.

The National Democratic Party (Nasdem) also has the experience of recruiting celebrities in the 2014 and 2019 elections. Former Secretary General of Nasdem Party, Rio Capella, said that there were 10 celebrities recruited to participate in the contest. All of them were recruited directly by the party. “We directly contact them and offer them to join our party,” Rio told Jaring.id on Monday, July 3, 2023.

Even so, Nasdem also formed a special team before the recruitment process. They are in charge of selecting and interviewing the candidates. The selection is based on popularity on social media, their place of birth, and the extent to which the Indonesian people recognize the targeted celebrities. Based on the search results, Nasdem will determine the figures they invite. “We choose public figures who are not only popular, but also have a strong network,” said Rio.

Once they are selected as the target, the figures will be invited to discuss their interests in joining the party. They will be offered the electoral districts where they will have to garner their votes and the costs incurred by the party for the political campaign. “If we reach a deal, then they need to sign the documents to become a candidate for Nasdem Party,” he said.

Meanwhile, the figures who do not pass the selection will still be asked for help, but will not be the party’s cadres. “They will only participate to liven up the campaign activities because they will eventually not being elected,” Rio explained.

In the 2014 elections, Nasdem was able to reap 8.42 million votes or 6.74 percent of the total national legitimate votes. In the following election in 2019, Nasdem’s vote increased by about 2 percent, with 12.7 million votes or 9.05 percent of the total legitimate votes nationwide.

This time, ahead of the 2024 elections, Nasdem have proposed eight celebrities. They are singers Anisa Bahar and Reza Artamevia, soap opera actors Ali Syakieb and Nafa Urbach, TV presenters Choky Sitohang and Ramzi, and as well as musicians Didi Riyadi and Diana Sastra.

Unlike many other parties that invite celebrities, the Ummat Party, which will make debut in the 2024 elections, did not want to use public figures. The party that was just established and legalized as a participant in the upcoming elections at the beginning of this year said that their reason of not recruiting celebrities was because the Ummat Party’s voter base is segmented of only from the Muslim community. “If we invite celebrities, it will certainly affect that segmentation,” said Deputy Chairman of the Ummat Party, Nazaruddin, Wednesday, July 5, 2023.

In line with their stance, the Ummat Party is not so interested in inviting celebrities, moreover without paying attention to their religious backgrounds. Their efforts are by campaigning with Islamic bases. “Using public figures are just a matter of strategy,” he said, adding that he was aware that not many celebrities would be interested to join the party.


Regeneration of Cadres Remains a Tough Task

The phenomenon of political parties using celebrities in the presidential election is actually common. In the 2009 elections, there were at least 61 artist candidates, but only 19 of them were successful to secure their seats in the House of Representatives.

In the next election in 2014, the number of celebrity candidates increased to 77. However, in that period, only 22 of them made it to become the legislative members. Meanwhile, in the 2019 elections, the number rose further to 116 candidates, but only 14 celebrities managed to obtain the House seats.

Ahead of the 2024 elections, there are around 50 legislative candidates who are celebrities. They are nominated by PDIP, the National Mandate Party (PAN), Gerindra Party, Nasdem Party, PSI, and the National Awakening Party (PKB).

A line up of celebrity candidates from PDIP are singer Krisdayanti, actor Rano Karno, and musician Elfonda Mekel. Some artists, including Pasha Ungu, Verrel Bramasta, and Surya Utama a.k.a Uya Kuya, are eyeing the parliamentary seats by joining PAN. Meanwhile, musician Ahmad Dhani and Melliana Goeslaw, as well as actor Derry Drajat are running the contest under the flag of Gerindra.

The nomination of these celebrities is considered to be getting a breath of fresh air after the Constitutional Court defended the open list proportional system as the electoral system to be applied in the 2024 elections. The Constitutional Court rejected the petition of a number of party cadres and legislative candidates to change the electoral system to closed proportional or party voting. “Declaring to reject the applicant’s petition in its entirety,” Constitutional Court Chairman Anwar Usman said in a hearing to read out the decision on the judicial review of the open list proportional electoral system on Thursday, June 15, 2023.

The Constitutional Court considers that the open proportional electoral system is closer to the concept of elections in the 1945 Constitution, which mandates that sovereignty is in the hands of the people. Therefore, if the elected legislative candidates are determined by political parties, then it is considered to deny the sovereignty of the people.

In addition to nominating celebrities, parties that lack candidates to bet on their popularity usually nominate cadres of other political parties in the candidacy of president and vice president. This strategy is carried out by PSI. This party has named Ganjar Pranowo, the Governor of Central Java, who is also a cadre of PDIP, to be the 2024 presidential candidate. Apart from Ganjar, PSI is also busy nominating Kaesang Pangarep, the youngest son of President Joko Widodo, to be the Mayor of Depok, West Java.

In PSI’s point of view, Kaesang is considered a potential candidate capable of leading Depok City. PSI even conveyed its support directly to Jokowi’s family, including Gibran Rakabuming, who is now the Mayor of Solo. “We will not make this offer, unless we know that the figure has a willingness and capabilities to work in politics. Regardless of celebrities or whatever their profession is, if they have good quality and they are ready to work for the people, then we have no problem,” Sigit said.

Neither rejected nor directly accepted the nomination from PSI, Kaesang did not say much. “When we had a meeting, he said it was good,” Sigit said. Even so, he believes Kaesang is willing to become mayor of Depok from PSI. “He did not openly accept PSI’s candidacy but he did not reject it either. But there is an implicit welcome gestures, one of which is sending his photos,” Sigit explained.

The photo of Kaesang wearing a white shirt was then used as a billboard by PSI. The targeted  location to install the billboard was Jalan Margonda, Depok. “It was Kaesang himself who gave us the photo,” Sigit emphasized.

Although the 2024 election campaign period is only four months away, which is from November 28, 2023 until  February 10, 2024, the installation of billboards of the president’s son for as the candidate of Depok Mayor is considered fruitful. The people of Depok, Sigit claimed, welcomed PSI’s support for Kaesang’s candidacy in the mayoral election. This was based on 0a survey conducted by PSI by telephone from June 1 to 14, 2023. The survey involved 10,024 people. The result was that 61 percent of Depok people supported Kaesang.

A similar electability survey conducted by Indo Barometer showed that PSI’s popularity rose to 5.8 percent in June 2023. Previously, PSI’s electability was only 5.6 percent. “It becomes a widespread conversation. The response is positive. Kaesang’s popularity rose,” Sigit said. On Tuesday, June 25, Kaesang’s presence in Sawangan, Depok also put the president’s son in the spotlight. “I need to remind you once again that this is not a campaign,” said Kaesang, who at that time wanted to reopen business line which was closed.

President Joko Widodo later commented about his youngest son’s plan to run for mayoral election. “The duty of parents is to approve and pray. They have to bear the responsibilities by themselves. If I am being asked for advice, I will definitely give my advice. If I am not, then I don’t have to,” Jokowi told reporters at the Financial and Development Supervisory Agency (BPKP) Building on Wednesday, June 14, 2023.

The National Mandate Party (PAN) also did not want to be left behind in announcing their presidential candidates, who are the cadres of other parties. They include Central Jave Governor Ganjar Pranowo, Chairwoman of PDIP central board Puan Maharani, and Golkar Party Chairman Airlangga Hartarto.

Likewise, the United Development Party (PPP) said that the cadres of other political parties, such as Ganjar Pranowo and the Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy Sandiaga Uno from the Gerindra Party, were included in the list of presidential candidates proposed by PPP administrators and members at the grassroots.

This phenomenon is considered bad news for political institutionalization. Mainly related to recruitment and regeneration. Political parties seem to have difficulty having potential candidates from within their own ranks, so they take the instant way by involving artists and celebrities from the entertainment world.

The number of political parties eyeing and nominating the cadres of other political party was once criticized by PDIP General Chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri. In her speech at the PDIP 50th Anniversary celebration last January 2023, Megawati complained that there was a tendency for other political parties to hijack the success of her party’s cadres. “They should have worked hard first, then rejoice. Why were they just being so uproarious [about enjoying the fruits of other people’s works without any contribution]. They never asked for permission, but suddenly ‘hijacked’ my people. What a shame,” Megawati said on Tuesday, January 10, 2023.

What Megawati said was not surprising to political researcher at the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN), Siti Zuhro. According to her, the existence of political parties as organizations that accommodate the interests and participation of the public is currently not optimal, primarily in producing quality cadres.

“The public is questioning this. So what is actually the party’s main job and function? The main function is conducting professional regeneration and promotion of cadres by preparing them with proper training. Who will work as the legislative members and who will hold the position as the executive, “Siti told Jaring.id on Sunday, July 30, 2023.

Therefore, not a few parties take shortcuts by recruiting celebrities who are well known to the public. “This is not too difficult for political parties to do. As long as they fulfill the requirements and have the high electability, it is easy to find the candidates,” she said. Nevertheless,, political parties have a responsibility to improve the quality of all cadres, including those who were celebrities.

There should be some kind of database, so that the cadres are aware about the clear regeneration process and the prospects for becoming cadres. Then, the cadres will develop a sense of belonging to the party. There should be no collusion, nepotism and corruption. Everything is based on competence. They must also be equipped with party ideology in accordance with the party platform,” said Siti.

PSI politician Sigit Widodo did not deny the weakness of the party regeneration system in Indonesia. “The problem is that there are parties that do not cnduct the selection properly. They just randomly nominate, just because of the popularity of the celebrities. This is the failure of political parties to provide the best choice for the community,” said Sigit. Therefore, PSI applies an open selection system by involving experts, so that all candidates promoted by PSI can be tested for quality, as well as increase their capacity.

“The celebrities should not be invited to join the party without a correct and transparent selection, and suddenly become candidates. That is not a good step, and it will become a bad habit if it is not stopped,” he added.

Meanwhile, PDIP denies that regeneration in his party is weak. According to Bambang Prastowo, PDIP has carried out regeneration for all candidates competing in elections, regional head elections, governors, the Regional Legislative Councils (DPRD), and the House of Representatives. The form of regeneration offered by PDIP is by placing candidates according to their portions.”

For example, candidates of DPRD and regional heads, who would compete in election at the regency level, must undergo the training for cadres at the pratama (primary) level. Meanwhile, candidates of House members should pass the training for cadres at the utama (main) level. That’s a requirement, regardless of the candidates’ background, even if he is a three-star general,” Bambang explained.

In the regeneration process, he said, PDIP always provides the learning material related to ideology, social analysis, and the party. In addition, legislative candidates are given the task of looking at the social dynamics of society. “They must observe the level of poverty and education. They should complete the assignments from the party and submit reports to the party,” he concluded.

Overseas Voters’ Turnout Shrink

Binti Rosidah is one of more than 1.6 million Indonesians living and working in Malaysia. She has been working as a domestic worker in Kuala

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