PSI, minorities and the diaspora vote

The Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) is led by Grace Natalie, an ethnic Chinese, Christian woman. Photo by M Agung Rajasa for Antara.

 

One of the more interesting developments of the 2019 elections was the participation of the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI). Established in 2014, the party aims to promote and protect Indonesian pluralism and fight for the rights of marginalised groups. It is led by “triple minority” Grace Natalie, who is ethnic Chinese, Christian, and a woman.

 

PSI’s commitment to promoting the right of minorities was reflected in its nomination of six people with disabilities as candidates and 47 per cent women. In fact, PSI had more people with disabilities, women and minorities running as candidates than any other party. PSI also promoted itself as the party for millennials and recruited candidates who were aged under 40 years, most of whom had no previous affiliation with the “old” parties.

 

PSI’s policies proved controversial. It strongly criticised religion-inspired regional regulations (Perda Syariah and Perda Injil) as discriminating against women and other minority groups. Given that some Indonesians appear to view criticism of religion-inspired policy as equivalent to an attack on their religion, few expected that a new party would have the courage to pursue this potentially unpopular policy.

 

But PSI went even further, campaigning to support Meliana, a Buddhist ethnic Chinese woman jailed for blasphemy after complaining about the noise of a neighbourhood mosque. Many felt Grace was committing political suicide, following in the footsteps of another ethnic Chinese Christian politician, former Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama.

 

Grace did not stop there. PSI also campaigned for a ban on polygamy, describing it as a form of domestic violence. In fact, gender issues and women’s representation were at the forefront of PSI’s campaign. PSI has stated that there is a need for law reform and broader promotion of a culture of gender equality to better protect the rights of women. It has demonstrated strong support for the anti-sexual violence bill, which activists are pushing to have passed before the current group of lawmakers exits the legislature in less than six months.

 

PSI also made migrant workers’ rights a prominent part of its campaign and advocated for them to gain more access to legal status in places like Sabah, Malaysia. It has condemned the ongoing application of the death penalty, stating that if Indonesia does not want to have its citizens face the death penalty abroad (many of whom are migrant workers) it cannot continue to support its use domestically.

 

PSI achieved a surprisingly strong fourth placed finish in the Jakarta provincial legislature, securing seats there. It performed particularly well among overseas voters, coming in first with about 39 per cent of the vote in both Melbourne and Sydney, and 50 per cent of the vote in Toronto, Canada.

 

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), there were 4.5 million Indonesian migrant workers around the world in 2017, and 70 per cent of them were women. They are employed as domestic workers in places like Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Saudi Arabia, factory workers in Malaysia, caregivers and nurses in the aged care sector in Japan, or as skilled workers in the education sector (such as Indonesian language teachers in Australia). These millions of migrant workers are on top of the many female international students and female marriage migrants. Quick counts suggest PSI also did well in countries and regions with large numbers of Indonesian female domestic workers, such as in Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

 

According to elections regulations, Indonesian overseas voters are all placed in Jakarta Electorate II, which covers Central Jakarta and South Jakarta. Overseas voters comprise 45 per cent of the registered voters in this district. At home, the party secured just 2 per cent of the vote nationally. Why did PSI do well overseas but fail to meet the legislative threshold of 4 per cent at home, and what does this tell us about the party’s prospects for the future?

 

PSI did so well overseas is because most Indonesians living in the diaspora have a minority or marginalised background. This is, in fact, common to many diasporic groups across the world who have fled various forms of persecution – they may be minorities in their home country but become a majority in the diaspora.

 

In Australia, the most common demographic profile of a member of the Indonesian diaspora is female, ethnic Chinese, Christian and tertiary educated. Tertiary students account for a large proportion of overseas voters in Australia. Young Indonesians undertaking their bachelor’s degree abroad may be attracted to PSI’s status as the party for “youth” and its promotion of liberal values and pluralism, values that they are likely to have greater exposure to overseas. PSI built this image by recruiting candidates aged under 40, and almost half of them were women.

 

It is also significant that many young Indonesians who study abroad are also from minority ethnic Chinese or Christian backgrounds – minorities may find it more appealing to seek tertiary education overseas and pursue international career opportunities. PSI’s campaign for religious and social pluralism would naturally appeal to them.

 

PSI used the English terms “bro” and “sis” in its online communications. While this positioned the party as in touch with young voters who are cosmopolitan, international or located in urban centres, such as Jakarta, it also resulted in the party being criticised by some for using English terms, instead of Indonesian equivalents.

 

On the night of the election, after quick count results were released, Grace issued a formal statement acknowledging that the party had failed to reach the 4 per cent threshold needed to secure seats in the national legislature (DPR). She noted, however, that the 2 per cent the party achieved was equivalent to 3 million votes. Grace stressed that these votes would not be wasted, and PSI planned to build on this support in future elections.

 

Beyond their strong performance in overseas polling booths, PSI was also able to secure about 8 per cent of the vote in the Jakarta provincial legislature (DPRD). It also looks like it will do well enough to pick up seats in other municipal legislatures, like Bandung, Malang, Manado, Semarang and Surabaya. PSI’s trial run in the Jakarta DPRD and possibly other municipal legislatures will be fascinating cases to follow and potential “blue prints” for minority liberal parties hoping to gain political influence.

 

Will PSI provide the check and balances desperately needed in how Jakarta is run by Governor Anies Baswedan, particularly in its treatment of minorities? Could Grace Natalie end up acting as a de facto “opposition” leader in the capital?

 

Grace added that as a prominent public supporter of President Joko (“Jokowi”) Widodo’s campaign, PSI played a role in ensuring he was re-elected for a second term. There are now questions about whether PSI will be acknowledged or rewarded for its support. Will the Jokowi administration pay greater attention to PSI’s key policy concerns and make a better effort to fight intolerance and the “old guard”, and strengthen the rights of women and people with disabilities, young people, migrant workers and Indonesians in the diaspora?

 

We wait with anticipation to what the future holds for PSI, Jokowi’s second administration and Indonesia’s democratic future.

 

 

Dina Afrianty and Monika Winarnita are registered overseas voters and cast their vote for the president and representative for Jakarta Electorate II (Central Jakarta, South Jakarta and overseas voters) on 13 April in Melbourne.