K-stans, beware: Politicians are lurking ahead of elections

Presidential candidate Ganjar Pranowo and his campaigner have found themselves in hot water after they suggested holding a K-pop concert in Central Java ahead of next year’s general election.

Dio Suhenda

Dio Suhenda

The Jakarta Post


Fans make finger hearts while enjoying a K-pop concert. PHOTO: Shutterstock/THE JAKARTA POST

August 1, 2023

JAKARTA – Presidential candidate Ganjar Pranowo and his campaigner, Surakarta Mayor Gibran Rakabuming Raka, have found themselves in hot water after they suggested holding a K-pop concert in Central Java ahead of next year’s general election, in an apparent attempt to entice young voters.

Ganjar, who was named the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle’s (PDI-P) presidential candidate in April, said recently that Gibran, who is the eldest son of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, was considering inviting K-pop artists to Surakarta.

“[Gibran] has no idea who to invite. Any suggestions?” Ganjar, the Central Java governor, said in a Tweet on July 21 that has since been viewed by 5.3 million Twitter users.

A similar message was also published on Ganjar’s Instagram page.

While some K-Pop fans went on to suggest names of artists, others were not as receptive to the idea and accused Ganjar of looking to leverage K-pop’s popularity in the country for his own electoral gains.

Other Twitter users pointed to the similarity between Ganjar’s alleged efforts in trying to appeal to K-pop fans and Jokowi’s association with heavy metal music during the 2014 presidential election.

Jokowi is known as a heavy metal fan, something that helped build his image as a man of the people in the lead up to the 2014 election.

Nova Mujahid of big data consulting firm Drone Emprit suspected that Ganjar was likely employing a similar tactic. But, whereas Jokowi’s association with metal was well received by fans of the genre, Ganjar has fallen flat. This, Nova said, was likely because it is easy for K-pop fans to see that Ganjar is an “outsider” who is trying to force himself into the community.

“I doubt that Ganjar, or [other presidential hopefuls] such as Anies [Baswedan] and Prabowo [Subianto] are actual fans of K-pop. But, I don’t think this will stop them from pandering to K-pop fans, particularly as we near the start of the [official] campaign window,” he said.

Indonesia’s number of K-Pop fans is staggering. In 2020, The Jakarta Post reported that Indonesians were the third-most devoted K-stans worldwide.

While K-pop idols and celebrities in South Korea do not weigh in on politics, global K-stans have become a force for political activism, for instance, through social media protests against racism and police brutality in the United States in 2020.

In Indonesia, K-pop fans were key in amplifying criticism against the controversial job creation law in 2020. It was only thanks to the millions of Indonesian K-stans on Twitter that hashtags such as #MosiTidakPercaya (vote of no confidence), #DPRRIKhianatiRakyat (lawmakers betray the people) and #TolakOmnibusLaw (reject the omnibus law) became trending topics worldwide, according to a report from Drone Emprit.

Responding to these accusations, Ganjar said that the K-pop concert plan had “nothing to do with politics”.

“We think that a K-pop [concert] has the potential to improve the economy for the people of Central Java, especially for micro, small and medium enterprises and for the tourism sector. But, if our intention has displeased some people, then that’s okay too,” Ganjar wrote on Twitter.

Gibran first talked of holding a K-pop concert in Surakarta following his trip to South Korea in June. He did not mention which K-pop artists he planned to invite, but he wanted the concert to take place in September as part of an event to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of Indonesia’s diplomatic relationship with South Korea.

“We are currently negotiating with the [K-pop act’s] agency so that they can [perform] during the [South Korea-Indonesia] 50th anniversary [event]. We are all still waiting for confirmation,” Gibran said in June.

Following the backlash, it remains unclear whether a K-pop act will perform in Surakarta.

The PDI-P’s Ganjar and Gibran were not the first politicians that looked to capitalize on K-pop’s rising popularity in the country among voters aged under 40, who will be the majority in next year’s general election.

In March, just before K-pop act Blackpink’s concert in Jakarta, Gerindra Party posted on Twitter a ticket giveaway to see the event. To win the giveaway, fans had to pose with a photo of themselves in front of a billboard featuring the face of Gerindra patron and presumptive presidential candidate Prabowo while wearing Blackpink merchandise.

This incited protests from the band’s fans who refused to have their idols being pulled into domestic politics, but Gerindra said there was no political motive behind the giveaway program.

Days before on Twitter, the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) said that it would give away tickets to the Blackpink performance to those who followed the political party’s Twitter account and reposted the giveaway post.

In 2022, the National Mandate Party (PAN) held a national working meeting that featured the performance of another K-pop group, Astro.

scroll to top