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Indonesia's minority politicans seek to broaden base

Christian candidates see graft fight as popular vote winner

Indonesia's minority politicans seek to broaden base

Fr Antonius Benny Susetyo (left) says candidates must develop a people-centered electoral strategy

Konradus Epa, Jakarta

November 14, 2013

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With Indonesia's legaslative election less than six months away, prospective Catholic candidates are discussing ways to appeal to non-Christian voters.

Stefanus Asat Gusma, a Catholic anti-corruption activist who will be vying for a seat in the national parliament, said his strategy is to campaign on an anti-corruption platform that appeals to all Indonesians, not just those from his Catholic community.

Corruption is endemic in Indonesian politics, with politicians, government officials and judges frequently arrested or resigning amid corruption probes.

In October, the head of the Constitutional Court was arrested for accepting a bribe to settle an election dispute, the latest in a string of high-profile cases.

Earlier cases this year include the arrest of an oil and gas regulator on suspicion of accepting US$700,000 in bribes and the resignation of the chairman of the governming Democratic Party over alleged corruption. In August, the head of the oil and gas regulator was arrested for accepting US$700,000 in bribes.

Gusma, a member of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, said he is seeking election to promote economic transparency and to fight government corruption involving high-ranking officials, including members of parliament.

“I know Christian voters are only a small number. So I must go out of my community and join with other communities,” Gusma told

Christians comprise roughly 10 percent of Indonesia’s 250 million people. Christianity is the country’s second-largest religion after Islam.

Legislative elections at both national and regional levels are scheduled for April 9. Christian leaders are instructing political aspirants to expand beyond their familiar constituents.

Father Antonius Benny Susetyo, former secretary for the Indonesian bishops’ interreligious affairs commission, said Indonesia’s history of rampant corruption has provided Christian legislative hopefuls with the opportunity to expand their base.

“People are pessimistic and fed up with the existing political show,” Father Susetyo said.

He encouraged politicians to develop a “people-centered” strategy, rather than one that was focused on acquiring power. The road to winning an election, he said, “is thorny, treacherous and requires courage and personal integrity”.

Gusma, 29, serves as director of Torch of the Archipelago, an organization founded in 2012 by Christian and Muslim political activists to promote good government. He said he has spent time building relationships with a cross-section of Indonesian citizens and believes elected officials need to serve the marginalized and oppressed.

He said money and the desire of politicians to live a luxurious lifestyle was the root of corruption and called on parliamentarians to promote complete budget transparency.

“Corruption often correlates with budget, and I want budget transparency,” he said.

Catholic politician Ilona Itet Tridjajati Sumarijanto was elected to the national House of Representatives in 2009, representing the majority Muslim district of Lampung. She said candidates for public office represent all Indonesians, not just those who agree with their religious or political convictions.

Before running for political office, Sumarijanto, 67, already had developed a wide swath of support due to her decades of environmental advocacy and promoting women’s rights.

“If we want to win more votes, we have to reach out to people outside the church,” she said. 

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