Mon, 16 Jun 2003

'Ethnic Chinese parties unlikely to win in 2004'

A'an Suryana, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Political parties affiliated to the ethnic Chinese community in the country will not be able to gain major political support in the 2004 general election as happened in the past, says a prominent expert.

The grim prediction was attributed to the fact that in the 1999 election, such parties were unable to grow and did not gain sufficient votes to win any seats in the House of Representatives, provincial and regency legislatures, said Leo Suryadinata.

"The same experience will likely repeat in the next elections," he told reporters after a discussion on ethnic Chinese in Indonesia and the launching of his book Negara dan Etnis Tionghoa: Kasus Indonesia (The State and Ethnic Chinese: Indonesia's case) at J.W. Marriott hotel here.

The function itself was jointly coordinated by private think tank Sugeng Sarjadi Syndicated and the Chinese-Indonesian Association (INTI).

There are at least two Chinese-based political parties -- the Indonesia Bhinneka Party (PBI) and the Tionghoa Reform Party (Parti).

The PBI could steal one seat in West Kalimantan provincial legislature.

Suryadinata added that another factor impeding Chinese-based political parties in gaining enough votes in the next election was the growing belief, even within the Chinese community itself, that the parties would not gain enough votes in the election, which then could assure that their constituents' interests were given attention.

"Chinese-Indonesian voters will prefer to cast their votes for major nationalist parties that have already established a prominent position in the national political landscape, such as the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), to fight for their political aspirations," said Suryadinata, also a lecturer at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

There are currently six million Chinese-Indonesians, out of a total population of 215 million Indonesians.

Most Chinese-Indonesians are not interested in politics since their focus has always been on business, one reason why they have dominated the Indonesian economy, especially the retail sector.

Political apathy, together with the community's small size, has left Chinese-Indonesians on the periphery of Indonesian politics.

Separately, Syamsuddin Harris, a political expert of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, shared Suryadinata's views.

He said that it would be difficult for such parties to gain political support from people of other ethnic groups.

"Even, Islamic parties themselves, representing the majority of the people, have been unable to win a single majority in the previous elections," Syamsuddin told The Jakarta Post.

The Muslim people have been divided into numerous Islamic and nationalist parties.

Besides, the absence of political support from other ethnic groups, Syamsuddin said, that any parties affiliated to Chinese- Indonesians would face difficulties in coming to power in the future.

"The Chinese-Indonesians may not vote for PBI or Parti, for fear that they and the parties will be labeled as exclusive by the majority. Therefore, it would be more beneficial for them to vote for nationalist parties," said Syamsuddin.