Wawan Anggarana, 31, was elected in September 2004 to the Dompu Regional Parliament (DPRD). Dompu is on Sumbawa island, in West Nusa Tenggara.
After growing up under Suharto, I had high hopes for the changes that the reformasi era might bring. Even in remote Dompu, there have been changes — people can speak freely now. But politics in Dompu remains feudalistic. It’s not your ideas that are important, but your birth, position and status.
I had been working as a grassroots activist with an NGO called PER (Community Economic Post). We supported small businesses with training and advocacy. I helped to negotiate resolutions when small businesses were in conflict with big business or government. But I was frustrated because the input NGOs make to government is basically ignored. We need reformers in parliament to bring in things like participatory planning (involving the community in planning policy). So, a couple of years ago I decided to enter politics.
I chose the National Mandate Party (PAN) as my party because I liked their ideology. As the election approached in 2004, I was nominated as the party’s first candidate in my region, based on an evaluation by the PAN Dompu party leaders and a meeting of all PAN members. From 15 PAN candidates running for election to the DPRD, in all regions, three got in. I was one of them.
Black market at the DPRD
The Dompu Regional Parliament has 25 members. Golkar is the strongest party, with six seats. The other parties formed the Populist Alliance to oppose Golkar’s control of parliament. When the election for head of the regional parliament took place in January 2004 Golkar put forward two candidates, and the Populist Alliance one. One of Golkar’s candidates, AM Thalib, won with 13 out of 25 votes. Eight of those votes came from the Populist Alliance. I went fishing to find out why Populist Alliance members did not support their own candidate. When I asked one of the members to share some of the ten million rupiah (A$ 1400) he got for his vote, he replied ‘No, I only got five!’
There’s been plenty more corruption since then. For example, during elections for district head, one candidate’s campaign expenses came to about Rp 2 billion (A$ 270,000). A large part of these funds was used to bribe members of the parliament, since we elect the district head. Each member was offered Rp 15-20 million. To my knowledge only four of us refused this money. The candidate still lost the election.
Corruption happens on a smaller scale too. For example, parliament members have a health fund. The health fund provides money for medical expenses even without receipts or proof of illness. I proposed to the parliament that we use medical insurance instead, where claims would be paid after being proven. The parliament is currently debating this.
I have found a group of fellow members who are interested in reducing corruption. There are about seven of us, but it is hard to say if any of us are completely clean. It is very difficult to be 100 per cent free of corruption when corrupt practices are so deeply integrated into everyday life. There is a lot of pressure from other members to accept bribes, and members’ families have high expectations that election to parliament will lead to cash windfalls.
Preman (gangsters) play a large role in politics in Dompu. During the recent district head elections, one candidate paid preman to hold a demonstration supporting him. In small districts like Dompu, local politics are strongly influenced by such things. Preman were also instrumental in getting the only female member of parliament elected. Nurulhillah Khairunissa (Nurul), from the Freedom Party, happens to be the daughter of the current district head. The parliament members were investigating whether Nurul was legally compromised, but the district head demanded that her inauguration be held right away. There were also demonstrations, organised by gangsters and ‘activists’, demanding that she be inaugurated immediately.
The fact that the only woman in parliament is there because of her connections with powerful people is no accident. Politics is seen as a man’s world, and the few women who do enter politics get little support within their party. A woman can not expect much support from her family either. It is assumed that women are not capable of the intrigue and strategy necessary to succeed in politics.
I will continue trying to reduce corruption. I will also work to implement a Parliament Watch system. This would give the public a chance to keep an eye on us too.
Wawan Anggarana (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a member of the regional parliament in Dompu.