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Jakarta Post

Up against discrimination

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sat, January 26, 2019   /   08:13 am
Up against discrimination The release of Ahok — or BTP as he recently requested to be called — from detention after he served his two-year prison sentence on Thursday was greeted with joy, but also some apprehension. (JP/Dhoni Setiawan)

Many worried that the “Defend Islam” marches in Jakarta, referred to as the “212” rallies, would encourage negative sentiments against Chinese-Indonesians and prevent the minority from having political representation.

Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama’s defeat in the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election and his subsequent conviction on blasphemy charges seemed to confirm the worst fears of those who shared the concerns: There would be no more Ahoks in Indonesian politics, no non-Muslims in national and local elections in majority Muslim areas. 

The release of Ahok — or BTP as he recently requested to be called — from detention after he served his two-year prison sentence on Thursday was greeted with joy, but also some apprehension. If a politician as popular as Ahok, whom many think did a good job as governor, failed to win an election and was instead imprisoned, what hopes have other Chinese-Indonesians, especially non-Muslim ones?

However, several Chinese-Indonesians who are even now running for election in Jakarta and nationally beg to differ with the pessimism. Six Chinese-Indonesians are running for Jakarta City Council seats in the April 17 elections. Twenty Chinese-Indonesians are running for the House of Representatives and 15 of them are battling it out in Jakarta’s electoral districts.

Some of the legislative candidates are running in areas with many Chinese-Indonesians like North Jakarta and West Jakarta. Karna Brata Lesmana, who is running for a House seat in the electoral district covering the Thousand Islands regency, West Jakarta and North Jakarta, said that although he relied on Chinese-Indonesian voters, he was also wooing voters from all demographic segments.

Some Chinese-Indonesian voters say they would choose anyone deemed competent who had a good track record, regardless of ethnicity. 

The aforementioned spirited politicians remain aware of racism against Chinese-Indonesians, the non-pri (nonindigenous), a label that pits them against the pribumi, those claiming to be natives of the land.

Councillor Gani Suwondo of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, who is seeking reelection, said greater political participation by Chinese-Indonesians was necessary to address issues centering on racial discrimination. 

“Many of the complaints [from citizens of Chinese descent] are about discrimination. We are even called aseng,” he said, using a pejorative word for Chinese.

Yet, they march on courageously and hope their political participation would help end discrimination.

Heriandi Lim, 38, one of the few Chinese-Indonesians in the National Awakening Party, said despite the negative sentiments, particularly against the prospect of the minority members holding public office, he was confident about winning enough support to send him to council and that would inspire more people like him to jump into politics. 

Along with efforts to reduce discrimination against and stigmatization of minorities, one day we should see more such individuals aiming for public office like Ahmadis, Shiites, or transgender people. It sounds impossible, but so was a Chinese-Indonesian governor.