Thursday, May 20, 2004

Black May 1998: 6th Commemoration (11 of 40)

Chinese-Indonesians rising to political stage
By Fabiola Desy Unidjaja and Apriadi Gunawan, Jakarta/Medan, North Sumatra
The Jakarta Post (Monday, March 15, 2004)

Scores of Chinese-Indonesians legislative candidates and regional representative council candidates (DPD) will be adding new color to the country's political stage.

Moving forward after 32 years of being deprived of their political rights, candidates of Chinese descent are determined not to miss a chance to participate in politics.

"This is not showing off, but I see the opportunity to fight for this country and for my province in more effective ways," Dr. Sofyan Tan, a DPD candidate from North Sumatra, told The Jakarta Post over the weekend.

"I believe this is the right moment and an opportunity for me to get close to the center of power and make a difference," the doctor said.

Tan's name is familiar among people in Medan, where he established a school for the poor in 1990. Thousands of children from different ethnic and religious backgrounds have studied at the school.

The school -- Sultan Iskandar Muda -- is financed through cross subsidy between wealthy and poor students, with the help of several businessmen and government officials.

For his hard work, Tan has received several awards, such as the Fellow Ashoka for Ethnic Relations and Education from Washington in 1989 and the Wiyata Mandala award for education in 2002 from North Sumatra Governor Rizal T. Nurdin.

Tan is one of the 172 Chinese-Indonesians across the country running for office, either as legislative candidates or for DPD seats. Four of the 38 Jakarta DPD candidates are of Chinese descent.

They are Kadiman Sutedi (Yongki), Anda Hakim, Hannan Soeharto and Eddie Kusuma.

It was former president Abdurrahman Wahid who took the initiative to end discrimination against Chinese-Indonesians and lift the ban against Chinese culture.

In the 1999 general election, only four Chinese-Indonesians won positions at the House of Representatives, including senior politician Kwik Kian Gie.

Another noted candidate in the upcoming elections is AB Susanto, who ranks first on the list of legislative candidates from the National Awakening Party (PKB) for Jakarta.

Susanto, who owns the Jakarta Consulting Group (JCG), has been a PKB member for only two years. Of PKB, he said, "I admire their genuine defense of pluralism."

Despite the new opportunity, noted politician Lieus Sungkarisma, also of Chinese descent, has warned these candidates that they could be used by the parties for funding.

"I am glad that they are willing to take the chance, but they have to remember that parties could be using them only to finance their campaign," Lieus told the Post.

Noted Chinese-Indonesian lawyer Frans Hendra Winarta urged the new politicians to have the courage to defend people of their own race.

"Indeed they should not only defend the interests of Chinese-Indonesians, they also stand up against discrimination against their own people," Frans said.

He said that current prominent figures of Chinese descent were too afraid to fight discrimination against their own race.

"What's the point in having these men close to power if they cannot end the discriminatory regulations, simply because they are afraid that people may consider them as exclusive politicians?" the lawyer said.

Lieus, who founded the Chinese-Indonesian Reform Party (Parti) ahead of the 1999 elections, however, cited the new phenomenon as encouraging. "Hopefully, in the next elections in 2009, we'll have even better Chinese-Indonesian candidates," he added.

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