Posted by: mel | April 8, 2009

Indonesia’s Ethnic Chinese Watch Election from Sidelines

08 April 2009 Intellasia | South China Morning Post

In Malaysia, the sizeable ethnic-Chinese population is regarded as having a kingmaker role in politics. 

In Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra, of Chinese descent, rose to the office of the prime minister. 

But in Indonesia, where more than 170 million voters go to the polls this week, the ethnic Chinese are still reluctant to participate in politics—and are sceptical about there ever being a political role for them as a group, analysts say. 

Indonesia Chinese New Year

Indonesians jostle to place their offerings in a Chinese temple Monday, Jan. 26, 2009 in Jakarta, Indonesia. (AP Photo by Ed Wray)

Benny Setiono, chair of the Chinese-Indonesian Association, said the community was still scarred by the discrimination suffered during the 32-year Suharto regime and the anti-Chinese violence that followed his downfall. 

“These abuses are still vivid in their minds, so they tend not to talk about politics. I think that among all the candidates, there are no more than 100 of Chinese descent all over Indonesia,” he said. 

To put that into perspective, in Thursday’s elections there are almost 12,000 candidates for the national parliament, and roughly 79,000 competing for seats in local assemblies. Chinese-Indonesians account for about four% of the country’s 240 million people. 

Setiono added that Chinese-Indonesians’ chances of being elected had diminished because of changes in the election law, with victory going to the candidate who receives the most votes rather than the one who sits atop a party list. 

“But this is not necessarily a bad thing. Before, Chinese-Indonesians were asked to pay money to be placed high on the list. This is no way to go to parliament,” he said. 

Suhendro Gautama, of the Social Chinese-Indonesian Clan Association, agreed that the community remained largely uninvolved in politics. “According to our projections, only 25% of them will vote,” he said. 

“They used to vote for pro-human-rights candidates, but since the national law has been changed, they are now more interested in the economy. They will vote for whoever promises a better business environment, easier customs clearance and the creation of new jobs.” 

Ethnically based parties had little success in the 1999 and 2004 national election. “The New Indonesian Party of Struggle now gathers many Chinese candidates, but it is not an ethnic-based party,” said Suhendro. 

Jemma Purdey, a scholar of Chinese-Indonesian issues at Australia\’s Monash University, argued that the community’s unwillingness to participate in politics meant its members would continue to rely on money to stake their claims in society. 

“As the experience under the Suharto regime shows, however, in the long-term, such a strategy only increases vulnerability and disempowers the minority as a whole,” she wrote in Inside Indonesia magazine. 

Building on discrimination put in place during the Dutch colonial era, Suharto issued regulations restricting ethnic Chinese from politics, academia and the military. During the 1997-98 economic crisis, ethnic-Chinese businesses were looted, and many people were killed or raped. 

Institutional discrimination started to be rolled back under president Abdurrahman Wahid in 2000. The Citizenship Law ratified in 2006 deleted any lingering legal inequity, but social stigmas are harder to beat. 

The community’s most prominent role in politics dates back to the early 1950s with four ethnic-Chinese ministers, including finance chief Ong Eng Die and health minister Lie Kiat Teng. 

Currently, Trade minister Marie Elka Pangestu is the only ethnic-Chinese representative in government. She has no affiliation to a party.

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