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Indonesia soon to elect non-Javanese president: experts

Publication Date : 14-01-2013


Although it is unlikely that the 2014 presidential election will produce a non-Javanese president, experts have expressed their optimism that Indonesia could soon elect a leader who does not hail from the country’s largest ethnic group.

Indria Samego, a political analyst with the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), said that with constant political education, especially among rural voters, the country could soon vote for a credible, non-Javanese politician as president.

“We must start now because it will take a long time to educate the people. Change is unlikely to happen next year, but this country can witness a huge transformation at least by the following election in 2019 if we start educating our voters immediately,” Indria told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

Indria was commenting on a statement by former vice president Jusuf Kalla that Indonesians were ready to elect a president who was not Javanese, arguing that the ethnic background of politicians mattered less at the national level today.

In an interview with The Straits Times published late last week, he noted that Jakarta residents had accepted an ethnic Chinese deputy governor when they elected new Governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, a Javanese, and his deputy, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, last year.

Kalla, who comes from the Bugis ethnic group, also said that while attitudes might take longer to change outside the capital, he believed that only 30 per cent of people thought the president must be Javanese, the country’s dominant ethnic group.

“The US needed some 250 years for a black man to become president and 200 years for a Catholic. I’m confident we are prepared [for a non-Javanese]. I don’t think we will need more than 70 years,” he said in an interview given exclusively to the Singaporean newspaper.

Indria, however, cautioned that electing a non-Javanese president remained a great challenge in 2014.

“Voting behaviour is closely related to voters’ education. Ethnicity is less of a problem for Indonesians who are educated. However, most Indonesians are still uneducated. So, I think the sentiment of ethnicity, as well as religion, will still dominate the 2014 election,” said Indria.

He said that the idea of electing a non-Javanese president was now widely shared by urban voters who could elect a candidate based solely on their quality.

Contacted separately, political analyst Ari Dwipayana said that in the short run, political parties would carry on exploiting ethnic sentiments for political gain, further impeding the prospect of electing a president who was not Javanese.

“Political parties campaigning for either the 2014 legislative or presidential election will use ethnicity, as well as religion, as a rallying call to win votes,” he said.

Ari said that the only way to prevent candidates from exploiting ethnic affinities was for the General Elections Commission (KPU) to issue a regulation on the matter.

“The KPU and the Elections Supervisory Committee [Panwaslu]could set a strict regulation prohibiting the manipulation of candidates’ ethnic backgrounds,” Ari said.

All of the country’s presidents, except for transitional leader B.J. Habibie, who succeeded Soeharto after the latter stepped down in 1998, have been Javanese.

The majority of candidates who will run in the 2014 elections are Javanese, with a handful of aspirants who do not come from that ethnic group being forced to pick a Javanese running mate.

Soon after his nomination as the Golkar Party’s presidential candidate, Aburizal Bakrie considered selecting Yogyakarta Governor Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X or First Lady Ani Yudhoyono, two of the country’s most prominent Javanese, as his running mate.

Among the non-Javanese candidates likely to join the 2014 contest are Kalla himself, Aburizal, who is a native of Lampung and of Malay background and Constitutional Court Chief Justice Mahfud MD, a Madurese.

The latest opinion poll conducted by the Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI) placed both Kalla and Mahfud as the most capable and trustworthy presidential candidates.

Other non-Javanese political candidates who often emerge in the opinion polls include patron of the National Democratic Party (NasDem), Surya Paloh, who is Acehnese; Muslim scholar Anies Baswedan, who is of Arab descent; and Coordinating Economic Minister Hatta Rajasa, a native of Palembang with a Malay background.


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