My campaign for a seat on the national legislature as a representative from North Maluku province was a great success. I learned a lot, but no, I didn’t win. Most people think of a party as a time when people gather together for a joyful event. But a political party has a very different meaning. In Indonesia, the elections combine the two meanings. The election is called a great party (pesta to celebrate democracy, with each political party (partai doing their best to attract the support of the people. The campaign period is full of celebrations, gifts and promises. But it is also a deadly serious competition for power. This ‘party’ will take up most of this year. The legislative elections were on 5 April. The presidential election (with 5 candidates) is on 5 July and the runoff presidential election will be held on 20 September, unless someone wins 50 per cent of the vote in July, including 20 per cent of the vote in at least 16 provinces.
In the April elections I never had a realistic chance of winning. Like many women candidates, I was in my party’s third position in a competition for three seats against 23 other parties. Some people wondered why I agreed to run. The National Awaking Party (Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa, PKB) of former president and lifelong human rights activist, Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur), nominated me. PKB is very strong in Java but weak in Eastern Indonesia. Gus Dur went outside his normal party structure to find women and Christian candidates. All parties were expected to nominate women as 30 per cent of their candidates. PKB was founded by NU (Nahdlatul Ulama), a Muslim organisation with 40 million members and a strong commitment to inter-religious harmony. A respected Christian leader recommended me to Gus Dur and urged me to accept the nomination to help bridge the gap between the Muslim and Christian communities in Indonesia.
I came to the ‘party’ very late. Neither my husband nor I had any dream of my running for national office. I was already very busy with my responsibilities at Duta Wacana Christian University, the Indonesian Women’s Coalition and the many activities at our home, Pondok Tali Rasa. However, the university granted me leave for a last minute political campaign during the month of March. The campaign was a wonderful opportunity to learn from and educate the people of North Maluku. During the campaign I concentrated on sharing with the people my concerns about Muslim-Christian reconciliation, human rights, especially for women and children, the rule of law, sustainable grassroots economic development, democracy without corruption, the development of human resources and regional autonomy. I communicated these themes using dramatic plays on the radio, face-to-face dialogues, large political rallies and four articles that I wrote for the local newspapers.
My presence was a surprise to many people. I came as a stranger to the Muslims of PKB, but left a month later feeling part of the family. I was accepted as a Christian sister who shared the love of God in a region plagued by civil war. Some of my old friends had doubts about my new position. They knew me as a community worker, educator and anthropologist rather than as a politician, let alone a politician for a Muslim party. However many people gave me their warm support. They were eager to see how Christians and Muslims could come together to build this nation. Christians should not compete with Muslims, let alone see them as enemies. Rather, we should work together to overcome our common problems.
North Maluku was among the slowest provinces to present final figures on the election. PKB did not win a seat from the province but they gained a dramatic increase in number of votes compared to the last election, with much of the increase coming from Christians. Golkar, the political machine of former President Suharto, is still the strongest party, followed by the puritan Muslim Prosperous Justice Party (Partai Keadilan Sejahtera, PKS). Unfortunately, corruption and money politics played a large role in Golkar’s success. The Sultan of Ternate also won a seat.
The experience of running for office was very profound. It was exciting to visit so many new areas and get to know so many new people. A politician has to be strong physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. With so many people to reach in such a short time and with so little money, we needed to plot a very wise strategy. The exhausting campaign gave me many insights on how good organisation can gather meagre resources and provide political education to one of the most isolated parts of Indonesia.
Both my husband and I are more and more involved with ways to mobilise Muslims and Christians to unite against the sources of evil in our beloved country. It is a task way beyond our abilities, but thankfully we are not alone. Many people share this vision and are working to make it happen.
This article is adapted from a letter written by Farsijana Adeney-Risakotta (firstname.lastname@example.org). It was not originally written with a magazine audience in mind.