AI ‘resurrects’ long dead dictator in murky new era of deepfake electioneering

Feb 12 (CNN/GNA) – A once-feared army general, who ruled Indonesia with an iron fist for more than three decades, has a message for voters ahead of upcoming elections – from beyond the grave.

“I am Suharto, the second president of Indonesia,” the former general says in a three-minute video that has racked up more than 4.7 million views on X and spread to TikTok, Facebook and YouTube.

While mildly convincing at first, it’s clear that the stern-looking man in the video isn’t the former Indonesian president. The real Suharto, dubbed the “Smiling General” because he was always seen smiling despite his ruthless leadership style, died in 2008 at age 86.

The video was an AI-generated deepfake, created using tools that cloned Suharto’s face and voice. “The video was made to remind us how important our votes are in the upcoming election,” said Erwin Aksa, deputy chairman of Golkar – one of Indonesia’s largest and oldest political parties. He first shared the video on X ahead of February 14 elections.

The party is one of 18 competing in this year’s race, which will see more than 200 million voters head to the polls. Golkar is not fielding its own presidential candidate but has thrown its support behind frontrunner Prabowo Subianto, a former army general under Suharto’s military-backed regime – and also his former son-in-law.

By bringing a long dead leader back to life just weeks before the vote, Golkar’s intentions were clear: to encourage voters to throw their weight behind the party synonymous with Suharto.

“As a member of Golkar, I am very proud of Suharto because he successfully developed Indonesia,” Aksa wrote on X. “He brought a lot of success. We must respect it and remember his services – Golkar was there.”

But online critics decried the act of using a dead man’s face and voice, especially for political propaganda. “This is the state of our country today – bringing dead dictators back to life to fool and scare us into votes,” wrote one Indonesian on X.

“Since when did it become ethical to create deepfakes out of dead people? It feels so morally wrong,” said another.

GNA/Credit: CNN