‘Fix it from within’: More Chinese Indonesians chase seats in parliament | Election news

Jakarta, Indonesia – Indonesia will see nearly 10,000 people, including some from the country’s ethnic Chinese minority, compete in Wednesday’s general election to become one of 580 lawmakers in the national parliament.

According to the Indonesian General Election Commission, there are 9,917 candidates representing 18 political parties in 38 provinces. The candidates included Indonesians of Chinese descent, who numbered about 2.8 million out of Indonesia’s then 237 million population in the 2010 national census. The more recent 2020 census did not mention their ethnicities.

For Chinese Indonesians, democracy has given them political rights that were once restricted.

During more than 30 years under Suharto, who resigned after mass protests in 1998, Chinese Indonesians were not allowed to publicly celebrate the Lunar New Year, and assimilation policies were introduced to make them more “Indonesian,” effectively turning them into Indonesians. Second class citizens. Many resorted to the business and private sectors to earn a living after being restricted to government positions.

“Politics is not for everyone,” said Taufik Tanasaldi, a senior lecturer in Indonesian and Asian studies at the University of Tasmania. “Especially for the Chinese who endured decades of discriminatory policies under the Suharto regime.”

A stall selling Lunar New Year decorations.  The festival was banned in Indonesia.
Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese minority can now celebrate the Lunar New Year and are no longer the target of official assimilation policies (Randy Mulianto/Al Jazeera)

But Tawfiq said that interest “increased after Suharto due to political reforms and policies aimed at eliminating discriminatory practices,” referring to equal opportunities for ethnic Chinese to run for office and vote for their preferred candidates.

“The elections or appointments of many Chinese individuals in national and regional politics have sparked this heightened interest. The visibility of their initial ‘success’ was important for Chinese society,” he told Al Jazeera.

Prominent Chinese people who have entered politics include former Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok. He was later imprisoned on blasphemy charges over comments he made during the election campaign, and has kept a low profile since his release.

“The acting has been consistent and definitely not getting worse,” Tawfiq said.

But for many Chinese Indonesian votersTawfiq said, “Parties with nationalist programs are more attractive compared to those that advocate sectarian values… especially at the national level.”

Indonesia’s population is more than 270 million people, and the number of eligible voters participating in the 2024 elections is about 205 million people. The general elections are scheduled to be held just four days after the elections Lunar New Year. February 14 is also Ash Wednesday, a holy day for Catholic Indonesians.

Despite representation, the current proportional representation system may disadvantage some candidates who must now campaign directly for seats.

R Siti Zohro, a research professor of political science at Indonesia’s National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN), says the open list has made it “very difficult to compete” for some candidates compared to the previous system where votes went to the party rather than the vote. Individual candidates.

She told Al Jazeera: “It depends more on the legislative candidate (to do the work) – whether his effort or money – in implementing tactical strategies, and not the party.”

Al Jazeera spoke with three Chinese-Indonesians running for national parliament.

Voedi Lachman, PKB

Fuidi Lokman is the candidate of the National Islamic Awakening Party (PKB) which is supporting Anis Baswedan and Muhaymen Iskandar for the positions of President and Vice President, where Muhaymen is its current president.

One of the founding figures of the PKK was the late Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid, known as Gus Dur, who lifted the ban on public celebrations of the Lunar New Year while taking office in 2000.

Voedi Lachman in his office.  He is standing in front of his desk.  He is wearing a pink shirt and looks comfortable.
Voedi Lakman in his office in North Jakarta. He says Chinese Indonesians should not be afraid to get involved in politics (Randy Mulianto/Al Jazeera)

Originally from Singkawang in Indonesia’s West Kalimantan province, 61-year-old Fuidi moved to Jakarta to attend university in 1983 and has lived there ever since.

He campaigned in some of the poorest areas of the sprawling capital, meeting residents and also posting videos on TikTok and Instagram.

Voidi, who owns a timber industry company in Jakarta, urged Chinese Indonesians to go out, vote and participate in Indonesia’s “Festival of Democracy”.

“We of Chinese origin do not need to feel sensitive about politics because we live in Indonesia,” he told Al Jazeera.

“Do not ask to be recognized as Indonesians when we put (democratic) processes aside.”

If elected, Foedi wants to pursue programs associated with “justice” and “equality” – with an emphasis on education and affordable health care.

Meri Sotejo, Labor Party

Meri Sutijo joined Partai Buruh (Workers’ Party), whose founders include various national union federations in Indonesia.

The party is headed by labor activist Saeed Iqbal and has not officially supported any presidential candidate.

Meri, who runs a housing construction company, says she found Partai Buruh to be the right platform to push for better social welfare and law enforcement for the Indonesian working class, including blue-collar and white-collar workers.

The 54-year-old was born in Medan, Indonesia’s North Sumatra province, and moved to Jakarta more than 30 years ago to attend university and hopes to win one of the capital’s seats in the national parliament.

As part of her campaign strategy, Meri distributes her business cards to people she meets and introduces herself. She has also asked her family, friends and business contacts for their support.

“I hope there is an opportunity and possibility for people like me – an ordinary Chinese minority with no political experience and background to run for office,” she told Al Jazeera.

Meri Sudtejo campaign poster
Mary Sutejo runs for the Indonesian Workers’ Party (Handout/Mary Sutejo)

Reddy Nusantara, Perindu

Reddy Nusantara, a candidate from the Perindo Party, is running in Indonesia’s Central Java province.

Berendu supports the presidential duo of Janjar Pranowo and Mahfud. It supported outgoing President Joko Widodo when the leader won his second term in 2019.

The 55-year-old, who owns a factory that makes metal cable racks, wants to attract more foreign investment to Indonesia and develop a tax system that encourages manufacturers to use local products rather than imported components that arrive in the country through special economic zones. .

Originally from the provincial capital Semarang, Reddy is targeting the country’s business and ethnic Chinese communities, as well as first-time voters. He also hopes to change the minds of those who may plan to abstain from voting.

Reddy has also appeared in audio videos, talking about entrepreneurship.

He encourages Chinese Indonesians – especially the younger generation – to enter national politics and “reform it from within.”

“For all of us of Chinese origin, especially young people, we must understand Indonesian politics,” Reddy told Al Jazeera.

“Because we, the Chinese community, if we do not understand Parliament, we will always be the cash cow of the Indonesian economy,” he added, expressing hope that increased political participation will help change the lingering stereotype that ethnic Chinese are only interested in doing business.

(Tags for translation)Features

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