Haryanto and Rizkika Lhena Darwin (The Conversation Indonesia)
Tue, October 25, 2022
In recent years, voters in the world’s third-largest democracy, Indonesia, have favored backing candidates with strong religious personalities and lifestyles and appearances adhering to Islamic values. This preference is in line with the growing trend of Islamic piety in the Muslim-majority country.
Many political candidates in Indonesia have taken advantage of social media to design campaigns that promote piety. Political candidates in particular have started to use social media to bring about social change and encourage women to become politically engaged.
During the 2019 elections, many Indonesian political candidates used social media to bolster an Islamic image. Our latest research shows the pattern of social media use among female candidates in the 2019 elections in Banda Aceh, the capital of the Shariah province of Aceh.
Research reveals that creating an Islamic image on social media helps women candidates increase their electivity and supports women’s participation and representation in politics.
Being godly is the key
Under Aceh’s Sharia, patriarchy dominates religious practices and social customs. But the proportion of female legislators in Banda Aceh has increased significantly in recent years.
In the 2019 elections, female candidates made up nearly 42 percent of the total number of candidates vying for 30 seats, according to data from the General Election Commission. In the 2014 election, the share of women candidates was only 14.8%.
We interviewed four candidates, including an incumbent, who ultimately won the election, for research.
They were Tati Meutia Asmara, Devi Yunita, Syarifah Munirah and Kasumi Sulaiman. Most of them came from Muslim-based political parties.
Knowing that most voters and the largest groups of digital media users in Banda Aceh were young women, they decided to launch their political campaigns on social media, especially Facebook and Instagram.
On their social media posts, we found that a majority of them were trying to create a pious image. The posts saw them sharing pictures of their Muslim wardrobes and engaging them in religious events and activities. Tati, for example, announced a visit to a community of Muslim women who promote hijrah (becoming more Islamic).
She also posted on her Facebook and Instagram feeds a photo of a chaplain who was making a pilgrimage to Mecca. Kasumi, another example, frequently shared religious quotes on her social media.
These actions reflect the candidates’ belief that voter ratings were based more on personal characteristics, identity and lifestyle, rather than issues and their political platforms.
Projecting ideal Islamic female figures
They have also reinforced the image of an ideal Muslim woman by showing how they love and care for the family while being faithful to their husbands on social media posts.
Tati, for example, built her image as a pious wife through her post which depicted two pairs of sandals for her husband, with a caption that read, “I’m sure, in the soles of your feet, my paradise now lies ; for my beloved”.
Candidate Syarifah Munira called herself a pious wife by posting a photo with Eid al-Adha greetings while kissing her husband’s hand. In Islam, obedience to a husband is widely considered the path to paradise for women.
Kasumi, meanwhile, named all her social media accounts “Bunda Mimi” (Mother Mimi) as she tried to associate her feminine image with Islamic values.
Our research calculates that their social posts to improve their religious image increased during the 2019 election campaign period. Up to 50% of the candidates’ total posts on Facebook reported this. While the number rose to 24% on Instagram. Tati, who won the election, was the candidate with the most social media posts showing her piety.
Break the barrier
In many Muslim countries, mainstream media have supported the idea that it is unfavorable for women to join the political race. Social media, however, has given women alternatives. Our study showed how social media strategy can open up more opportunities for women in the region to increase women’s political participation.
The research echoes other work showing that social media offers greater chances in some societies for female candidates to promote themselves and increase their chances of winning elections.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.