Fijian politicians take to TikTok to reach 'youth bulge' demographic ahead of national election – ABC News

Fijian politicians take to TikTok to reach 'youth bulge' demographic ahead of national election
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In one of his TikTok videos, Sitiveni Rabuka — who led an ethno-nationalist coup d'état to overthrow the Fijian government in 1987 — appears to be finishing off a resistance band workout.
"Someone asked me the other day, 'Do you ever lift bro?'" the 74-year-old says to the camera.
"I said, 'I used to but now I'm more interested in lifting the standard of this country.'"
Fiji's national election is only two weeks away and the leaders of three of the major parties have taken to TikTok to campaign — with varying degrees of commitment.
People under 35 make up more than 60 per cent of the country's population so securing the youth vote is a key priority.
Pacific digital researcher Jope Tarai said more than 600,000 Fijians were active on social media, about two-thirds of the country's population.
According to the Fijian Elections Office, the same number of people were registered to vote.
Known as the "youth bulge", Mr Tarai said one of the hurdles politicians faced was making young people care enough to get out and vote.
"You have to speak their language," he said.
And on TikTok, that language is dance.
One of Mahendra Chaudhry's videos features the former prime minister in an office clapping along to a tune with several women dancing behind him. 
Popular TikTok star Avishkar Kumar said he was hired to teach the 80-year-old leader of the Labour Party some moves.
"It was hard for him but he's coping," Mr Kumar said.
The former prime minister's efforts on the platform mark a departure from his usual grassroots style of campaigning.
"I'm still doing that," he told the ABC. 
"I'm not neglecting the general public, I'm still meeting with them in the traditional style of campaigning.
"But we've got to move with times, we've got to move with technology … which [young people] use to connect with what's happening around them.
"So I think that's a really good way of getting their attention."
The ABC also contacted incumbent Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and People's Alliance Party leader Sitiveni Rabuka for comment but did not receive a response.
Mr Tarai said Mr Rabuka had been using TikTok to allay the concerns of young Indo-Fijians.
Fiji's national election is set to be a contest between two former military coup leaders, both with experience serving as prime minister. 
Mr Rabuka's coup overthrew the then Indo-Fijian dominated government, which led to an exodus of non-Indigenous Fijians from the country.
His most popular TikTok skit opens with him shopping for fabric in a store, when an Indo-Fijian shop assistant approaches him with a question.
"If me and people like me vote for you now, will we be OK?" she asks.
"I give you my word, I will look after the Indo-Fijians of Fiji," Mr Rabuka replies.
Alsheik Ashad Ali, a 19-year-old Indo-Fijian student and first-time voter, said the skit was "actually creative".
"You can see videos in the comfort of your house and then you can decide who is the best alternative for you to vote for," he said.
A week after Mr Rabuka and Mr Chaudhry, the incumbent prime minister joined the platform with a different approach.
Mr Bainimarama featured in a video posted on Tuesday to the FijiFirst TikTok account where he watches clips of his opponents.
"I'm not here to dance," he says.
"Leadership is serious business. It matters to young people who want better jobs in high-tech industries."
Mr Tarai said for a political message to be successful on TikTok, it had to be tailored to the site.
"The platform is about entertainment, it's not like Twitter where there's a lot of serious political ideology discussions," he said.
He said polarising views were a big challenge in Fijian politics and TikTok gave candidates a unique opportunity to neutralise that feeling and connect with voters.
"If you're not going to vote for me, at least you can enjoy this moment with me," he said.
With just two weeks left until people head to the polls, Mr Ali said Fjii's youth would be waiting to see which TikTok video popped up next.
"It is good that people are getting informed and aware of who are the choices that they can choose from," he said.
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