Posted by: mel | March 8, 2009

Record Numbers of Ethnic Chinese Contest Indonesia Polls

February 27, 2009 

More than 12,000 people are contesting Indonesias parliamentary elections, now less than six weeks away. 

Numerous ethnic groups from across the archipelago are stepping into the spotlight, among them ethnic Chinese, who are contesting in record numbers. 

Presenter: Katie Hamann 
Speakers: Harry Tjan Silalahi, Political analyst; Dr Ratnawati Wijana, first time as a candidate for the Partai Demokrat; Wahyu Effendi, head of Indonesia’s Anti-discrimination Movement

(sound of Chinese Barongsai drums)

HAMANN: The crash of Barongsai drums …. At Chinese New Year the lion and dragon dance fills malls and streets in the Indonesian capital Jakarta. Less than a decade ago such celebrations were still banned, a fading legacy of Soeharto era discrimination against ethnic Chinese. And now, as Indonesia prepares for its second round of national democratic elections, ethnic-Chinese are also showing their political flare. It is difficult to know just how many of the 12,000 or people contesting the parliamentary elections are ethnic Chinese many have long ago abandoned their Chinese names or choose to otherwise conceal their heritage. But political parties across the spectrum are inviting them to stand this year. 

TJAN SILALAHI: Lots of them in direct political participation, in various parties; PDI, Golkar, Parati Demokrat, even the Muslim parties, local parties and so on. 

HAMANN: Harry Tjan Silalahi is a founding member and current Chair of at the Jakarta based Centre for Strategic and International Studies. 
He says Chinese Indonesians have always been involved in politics, generally as a source of funding, but now younger Chinese see politics as a career opportunity. 

TJAN SILALAHI: The young generation have seen that this is also an interesting vocation. Some of them have a very selfish motivation but lots of them have idealistic motivation; they want to, instead of only becoming a trader or businessman, they are now entering politics, otherwise they are only the one that pays politicians, but now they are exercising their right themselves.

Dr Ratnawati Wijana is running for the first time as a candidate for the Partai Demokrat, the party of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. 

WIJANA: Ten years ago, especially for the Chinese ethnic, they werent very welcome as politicians. But now everybody can express what they want to be or to participate in whole, Indonesian, everyday life, I think. 

Wijana is one of 8 ethnic-Chinese Partai Demokrat candidates in the Jakarta area contesting 560 seats in the lower house, or Peoples Representative Council. 

Wahyu Effendi is the head of Indonesias Anti-discrimination Movement. He says Indonesians are becoming more discerning in their choices. Voting for candidates with substance rather than the same ethnic heritage. 

EFFENDY: The election before they prefer to vote for the candidate with the same ethnicity, not to vote for a Chinese candidate. But now I think it is different. They realize that the qualities of a candidate not because of their ethnicity but because of their capability and commitment to Indonesia.

Until very recently, discrimination against ethnic Chinese was written into Indonesians legislation. It wasnt until the passage of the citizenship bill in 2006 that many ethnic Chinese could actually claim Indonesian citizenship, and therefore register as a political candidate. 

Tjan Silalahi says the dismantling of ethnic based laws and rise of Chinese political candidates is part of a broader international trend towards equality.

TJAN SILALAHI: Together with the process of globalisation, the world is now more open, more populous, more democracy everywhere that you have a black man as President in the United States, or Kevin Rudd has to kneel in the parliament to say sorry to the Aborigines, it is a new trend in politics, because of that the emancipation of the Chinese here also goes along with that line.

But politics is still politics and Tjan Silalahi believes that there are cynical motivations for the courtship of Chinese candidates and Chinese votes.

TJAN SILALAHI: Because the elections in Indonesia, with this system, is very expensive. And they thought that the Chinese has the money, maybe they expect some contribution. Its not a very nice comment, but I believe it is the motivation to a certain degree. So we have to change this; the way people are voting, the list of candidates and so on, it has to be more cheaper and more open.

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