Chinese-Indonesian in Surabaya, the 2017 Jakarta’s Governor Election and Future of Chinese-Indonesian’s Involvement in Politics
Many types of discrimination against Chinese ethnic minority (Tionghoa) in Indonesia decreased since the fall of the New Order in 1998 along with reformed state policies. “The Reform” era brings some changes and hopes to the Tionghoa community, including in Surabaya. However, the politics of impunity over violence that happened to them since the 1965 tragedy still becomes one of major problems that affect their struggle to reach equal rights until today. Eventhough the memory of violence has not really become the dominant narration in Surabaya’s Tionghoa, it still give some impact on their life at least until prior to the reformation era. Regarding to that, the 2017 Jakarta’s governor election which resulted the rising of religion-ethnicity sentiment somehow affect Surabaya’s Tionghoa in a way they look back on the memory of violence happened to their ethnic before the Reformation era.
Historically, the decline of Indonesian Tionghoa’s political involvement has happened since the 1965 anti-communist pogrom when, according to Oei Hiem Hwie, many of Tionghoa were imprisoned without trial. Since then, according to him, many Tionghoa excluded themselves from politics and lived with discrimination until Gus Dur (Abdurahman Wahid) became the President in 2001 when he launched some more supportive state policies for Tionghoa in Indonesia. In this regard, Gus Dur undoubtedly is the most influential figure in Tionghoa society and his legacy can be seen at harmonious life among Tionghoa, Java and Madura ethnics in Surabaya.
As explained above, Tionghoa people in Surabaya tend to live harmoniously with people from other ethnic groups and put their priority on economy activities (work, bussiness, and so on). Meanwhile, Tionghoa-based communities and organisations such as INTI (Perhimpunan Indonesia Tionghoa), PSMTI (Paguyuban Sosial Marga Tionghoa Indonesia), and PITI (Persatuan Islam Tionghoa Indonesia) live well and have a good relationship with other organisations such as NU (Nahdlatul Ulama), as said by H. Haryanto, the Head of PITI. In addition, they sometimes also take an important role in particular cases. For example, in the context of the recent Jakarta’s governor election, PITI takes an important role as a mediator between Muslim society and Tionghoa society in Surabaya. As we know, the religion-ethnicity issue has been rising since the recent Jakarta’s governor election packed with some series of protests against one of the candidates (because of his religion-ethnic identity and not his programme which is indeed problematic). The 2017 Jakarta’s governor election already affects the tension of national political situation and also potentially rises the latent bad perspective about Tionghoa involvement in the Indonesian politics among the Indonesian society.
Just like other ethnicities, Tionghoa-Surabaya are described as one homogenous entity laden with common stereotypes. In reality, this is not the case. It has different characteristics such as classes, religions, sexual orientations, and so on which might intersect with each other. Regarding to that, the 2017 Jakarta’s governor election which has resulted a high tension about religion-ethnic sentiment makes Tionghoa people (especially those who are not Moslems) more vulnerable in the future. In fact, Tinghoa people have an equal right as another citizen in politics.
One of young lecturers in the Airlangga University-Surabaya, Agie MS, is very concerned and worried about this issue. He thought that the rising of religion-ethnic sentiment resulted from the 2017 Jakarta’s 2017 governor election is dangerous for the future of Tionghoa’s youth in Indonesia which many of them are interested to involve in politics and even hope to become political leader in Indonesia. I agree that the religion-ethnic sentiment like the one that resulted from the 2017 Jakarta’s governor election is dangerous and potentially diminished the spirit of democracy itself. In my opinion, seeing Tionghoa people as one single entity as well as to see Tionghoa people as “the other“ will lead into unfair treats for Tionghoa people as a whole.(Fathimah Fildzah Izzati)
A short report from field research in Surabaya April 20-24, 2017 with team of “State Politics to Tionghoa Ethnic in Indonesia after the New Order Era”, Center for Political Studies, Indonesian Institute of Sciences.
Information taken from interviews and Focus Group Discussion in Surabaya.
Information from Dr. Herlambang P. Wiratraman at the Focus Group Discussion, April 21st, 2017.
Interview with Dr. Dede Oetomo, April 20th, 2017. According to him, the goal of Tionghoa people’s struggle is to have an equal right as other as citizen.
He is founder of Medayu Agung Library, Surabaya. He was the Secretary of Baperki and he was imprisoned without trial and exiled to Pulau Buru for about 8 years from 1970s to 1978s.
At that time, Gus Dur launched some regulations that give freedom to Tionghoa ethnic in Indonesia to celebrate their culture, religion and customs.
Interview with Oei Hiem Hwie, April 22nd, 2017.
In the political context, here is the illustration: when a Tionghoa leader launches bad regulations, that does not mean that all Tionghoa people will do the same thing if they lead. In conclusion, choosing a political leader candidate based on their skin colour and/or race and/or religion and/or ethnicity and not because of their thought and/or perspective and/or programme, will lead to unfair treatment for people at same ethnicity and/or religion with the candidate.