Mon, 22 Dec 2003

Chinese-Indonesians want discrimination abolished

Urip Hudiono, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

With the elections fast approaching, Indonesians of Chinese origin have set conditions for legislative and presidential candidates to win their support, namely the ending of all discriminatory policies and regulations.

"We will support candidates who work to abolish the excessive number of permits and licenses imposed on us," said Agus Susanto, the caretaker of a Confucian temple in Glodok, West Jakarta, over the weekend.

Indonesia will hold a legislative election in April 2004, and direct presidential election in July 2004. A total of 24 political parties have been declared eligible to contest the legislative election.

Agus was referring to the controversial Certificate of Citizenship (SBKRI) required of Indonesians of ethnic Chinese origin.

Although the SBKRI has been officially abolished, it is still required of Indonesians of ethnic Chinese origin if they want to obtain identity cards, passports, and registration forms to enter state-owned universities.

Aside from ensnaring people in complex bureaucracy, the SBKRI also imposes a financial burden for Indonesians of ethnic Chinese origin due to the high prices, sometimes millions of rupiah, they have to pay to obtain the certificate.

Chinese-Indonesians are also required to state ethnicity in their birth certificates, something that other ethnic groups are not required to do.

Since Confucianism, the traditional religion for many Indonesians of ethnic Chinese origin, has not been recognized by the state, there have also been cases of Chinese-Indonesian marriages not being registered by the Civil Registration Office, with children from these marriages simply considered to have been born out of wedlock.

"We were born here, work here, live here and blend in well with other ethnics here. So why are we still treated differently? I really hope the next government sincerely addresses this issue," said Rina Komala, a doctor living in Kota.

Skepticism over the commitment of candidates to fulfilling their promises, however, remains high among Chinese-Indonesians.

"That's politics. Politicians say one thing and then forget about it. What can we do?" Agus said exasperatedly.

Meanwhile, political apathy was shown by Irwan Kurnia, an electronics vendor in Glodok, though he said that he would still cast his vote in the upcoming elections.

"I don't really know about politics. I just hope the elections will run smoothly and things will get better afterwards," said Irwan Kurnia.

During a discussion organized by the Tionghoa Indonesian Association (Inti) on Friday, many Chinese Indonesians attending the event enthusiastically asked panelists Bara Hasibuan, Faisol Reza and Benny Susetyo whether they should support candidates with a military background, since they were seen as being more capable in ensuring security and stability in the country.

Responding to the question, Bara Hasibuan, a former National Mandate Party (PAN) activist now active in the Preparatory Committee for the Indonesian Movement (KPPI), pointed to the May 1998 mayhem had targeted Chinese Indonesians.

"Where was the military then? They were too busy with their own power struggles that they forgot their responsibility to ensuring the security of the nation, and, in this particular case, the security of Chinese-Indonesians," he said.

Faisol Reza, former leader of the Democratic People's Party (PRD), warned that though military figures portrayed themselves as being capable of ensuring security and stability in the country, "the military is still the military with all its authoritarian traits, which if given access to the nation's sociopolitical scene will pose a threat to democracy in the country."

Benny Susetyo from the Indonesian Bishops Conference (KWI) Crisis Center, meanwhile, proposed that the public closely scrutinize all legislative and presidential candidates, and black list those with bad track records.

"Any candidate who appears to have been involved in corruption and human rights violations must be kept out and not voted for," he said.

Chinese-Indonesians account for around 3 percent of the country's 215 million population but control a big percentage of the country's economy.