‘Try it from within’: More Chinese Indians running for seats in parliament | Elections News

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

According to the Indonesian General Elections Commission (KPU), there are 9,917 candidates representing 18 political parties in 38 provinces. Among those running are Indonesians of Chinese descent, who made up about 2.8 million of Indonesia’s then 237 million people in the 2010 national census. The most recent census in 2020 list of their clans.

For Chinese Indians, democracy has given them political rights that were once limited.

For more than 30 years under the rule of Soeharto, who resigned after mass protests in 1998, Chinese Indians were not allowed to celebrate the Lunar New Year in public and assimilation policies were introduced to make them more “Indonesian”, effectively turning them into a second. class citizens. Many turned to business and the private sector to earn a living after being barred from government jobs.

“Politics is not for everyone,” said Taufiq Tanasaldy, senior lecturer in Indonesian and Asian studies at the University of Tasmania. “Especially for the Chinese who suffered decades of discriminatory policies under the Soeharto regime. “

Stall selling Lunar New Year decorations.  The festival used to be 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 Mulyanto/Al Jazeera]

But Taufiq said interest “grew after Soeharto 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 favorite candidates.

“The elections or appointments of several Chinese people to national and regional politics raised this growing interest. The visibility of their first ‘success’ has been important to the Chinese community,” he told Al Jazeera.

Prominent Chinese who entered politics include former Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, commonly known as Ahok. He was later jailed for blasphemy over comments made on the campaign trail and has taken a lower profile since his release.

“Representation has been stable, it’s definitely not getting worse,” Taufiq said.

But for many Indonesian Chinese voters, Taufiq said, “parties with nationalist platforms are more attractive compared to those promoting sectarian values…

With more than 270 million people, Indonesia has nearly 205 million eligible voters participating in the 2024 poll. The general elections are scheduled to be held just four days after the New Year Lunar. February 14 is also Ash Wednesday, a holy day for Catholic Indians.

Regardless of representation, the current system of proportional representation may disadvantage some candidates who have to campaign directly for seats.

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

“It depends more on the legislative candidate [to do the work] – either the effort or the money – in carrying out tactical strategies, not the party,” she told Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera spoke to three Chinese Indians who are running for the national parliament.

Fuidy Luckman, PKB

Fuidy Luckman is a candidate for the Muslim-based National Awakening Party (PKB) which supports Anies Baswedan and Muhaimin Iskandar for president and vice president, as Muhaimin is the chairman right now.

One of the founders of PKB was the late Indonesian president, Abdurrahman Wahid, popularly known as Gus Dur, who lifted the ban on public celebrations of the Lunar New Year while in office in 2000 .

Fuidy Luckman in his office.  He is standing in front of his desk.  He is wearing a pink shirt and looks relaxed.
Fuidy Luckman in his office in North Jakarta. He says that Chinese Indians should not be afraid to join politics [Randy Mulyanto/Al Jazeera]

Originally from Singkawang in the West Kalimantan region of Indonesia, the 61-year-old Fuidy moved to Jakarta for university in 1983 and has lived there ever since.

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

Fuidy, who owns a company in the forest industry in Jakarta, urged Chinese Indians to come out and vote and participate in Indonesia’s “democracy festival”.

“We ethnic Chinese do not need to feel allergic to politics because we live in Indonesia,” he told Al Jazeera.

“Don’t ask to be recognized as Indians when we put aside [democratic] processes.”

If elected, Fuidy wants to pursue programs related to “justice” and “equality” — with a focus on education and more accessible health care.

Mery Sutedjo, Partai Buruh

Mery Sutedjo joined the Partai Buruh (Labour Party), whose founders include various Indonesian national trade union confederations.

The party is led by activist Said Iqbal and has not officially endorsed any presidential candidate.

Mery, who runs a house construction company, says she found Partai Buruh the right platform to push for better social welfare and law enforcement for Indonesia’s working class, including blue collar and white collar workers.

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

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

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

Mery Sudtedjo campaign poster
Mery Sutedjo is running for the Indonesian Labor Party [Handout/Mary Sutedjo]

Red Nusantara, Perindo

A candidate with the Perindo Party, Redi Nusantara, is running in the Central Java region of Indonesia.

Perindo supports the presidential couple Ganjar Pranowo and Mahfud MD. He 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 domestic products rather than imported components that reach the country through special economic zones. .

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

Redi also appeared on video podcasts, talking about entrepreneurship.

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

“For all of us ethnic Chinese, especially young people, we need to understand Indonesian politics,” Redi told Al Jazeera.

“Because if we, the Chinese community, don’t understand the parliament, we will always be the cash cow of the Indonesian economy,” he said, hoping that more political participation will help change the persistent stereotype that takes care for Chinese people decide only about doing business.

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