Mon, 07 Mar 2005

Ethnic issue comes to fore in Lampung

Oyos Saroso H.N., The Jakarta Post, Bandarlampung

Ahead of upcoming direct mayoral elections on June 27, political tensions in Metro, a city of 131,000, have heightened due to the emergence of ethnic issues.

Two rival groups vying with each other in the election are the ethnic Javanese on the one hand, and natives of Lampung along with the Komering community from South Sumatra on the other.

Vice Mayor Lukman Hakim, who is seeking to become Mayor in the upcoming direct elections, represents the Javanese group, while Mayor Mozes Herman, who is seeking reelection, the Lampung- Komering group. Rivalry between Lukman and Mozes has intensified recently, and they have publicly ridiculed each other on a number of occasions. In one instance, Lukman, 45, quipped that he had thus far not been delegated any authority as vice mayor by Mozes. However, Mozes retorted that it was ludicrous for the vice mayor not to know the division of labor between Mayor and Deputy Mayor.

Support for Lukman has grown by the day. Although he is not the only Javanese candidate in the election, he is more well- known by Metro people.

A survey conducted in January by the Community Development Foundation, an independent organization in Metro, placed him as the most popular mayoral candidate. Many political parties are also interested in him.

"Just by sitting nicely at home, Lukman can win the election with the support of ethnic Javanese in Metro. Only character assassination can stop him becoming mayor because 72 percent of the population in Metro are of Javanese origin.

"Lukman, whose parents came from Java, is a bureaucrat, has a very good chance to win," said a political observer from the Strategic Policy Study Center, Mahendra Utama.

According to Mahendra, the issue of ethnicity sells well in Metro because the Javanese feel they have been marginalized. In spite of their majority presence in the city, most officials in the bureaucracy are non-Javanese, similar to other areas in Lampung, such as in East and Central Lampung, and Way Kanan regencies.

The transmigration program which began during the Dutch colonial period and ended in the 1990s saw many people, especially from the densely populated island of Java, resettle in Lampung.

In the 1990s, many new townships emerged and made Lampung the second most populous province in Sumatra after North Sumatra. Natives of Lampung were eventually forced to move to the outskirts.

Data from the Central Statistics Bureau showed that in the 2004 elections the population of Lampung natives was less than the Javanese population. Ethnic Javanese comprised 61 percent of Lampung's population last year.

The post-New Order government -- the so-called reformasi era from May, 1998 -- introduced direct elections for regional leaders, and this has aroused the political spirit of people in Lampung.

While the New Order created sectarian political conflict, in which supporters of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah confronted each other, in the upcoming direct elections a new phenomenon is emerging in the form of ethnic politics. Ethnic politics is becoming increasingly obvious in the six regencies and mayoralties preparing for the direct elections.

The practice started with the emergence of the ethnically based Lampung Sai mass organization. In the Lampung gubernatorial election in December, 1997, Lampung Sai had backed Nurdin Muhayat, the then provincial secretary of Lampung, as its candidate. However, the former regent of Wonogiri, Central Java, Oemarsono, was eventually elected as governor, probably after instructions from Jakarta.

Oemarsono's appointment, reportedly backed by then-president Soeharto, caused a wave of protests with much anti-Javanese sentiment. After having failed to win the gubernatorial election in 1997, Lampung Sai continued campaigning for natives of Lampung to hold the posts of governor, regent and mayor.

Eventually, Lampung Sai succeeded in placing police Insp. Gen. Sjachroedin Z.P. as Lampung governor in the election in May last year, after getting support from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP).

A political observer from the Bandarlampung University, Jauhari Zailani, said that the phenomenon of ethnic politics in Lampung could not be stopped because it was now deeply ingrained.

Since parting from South Sumatra to become a separate province, not a single native of Lampung has been elected as governor.

According to Jauhari, the ethnic politics being propagated ahead of the forthcoming elections may well lead to grassroots conflict.