When losing the election can also cost you your sanity

Supporters of the Prosperous Justice Party or Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (PKS), an Islamic party, attend a campaign rally in Sidoarjo before the legislative election on March 30, 2014. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP
Supporters of the Prosperous Justice Party or Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (PKS), an Islamic party, attend a campaign rally in Sidoarjo before the legislative election on March 30, 2014. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP

Shortly after Indonesia's general election campaign started on March 16, a man turned up at the Marzoeki Mahdi Hospital here to be treated for depression.

He told doctors he could not bear to see or be near the party flags and posters of candidates that had gone up on trees and along the roads of this city, some 80km south of Jakarta.

They reminded him of the trauma he had suffered in 2009, when he lost not only his bid for a national Parliament seat but also his house and a fortune in campaign spending.

The man was hospitalised for a month, head nurse Siti Noor Triana told The Straits Times.

"He lashed out at anyone who told him he was a patient. He kept saying he had just had an important meeting on some proposed draft Bill. He thought he was an MP," she recalled.

The man cannot be named for reasons of patient confidentiality.

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With vote-counting for Wednesday's election under way and results starting to trickle in, several mental health institutions, including this hospital, are anticipating similar election-related trauma cases.

More than 200,000 candidates from 12 national parties are vying for nearly 20,000 seats - in the 560-seat national Parliament, 33 provincial and 497 district and city assemblies, and also the 132-seat regional representative council in Jakarta. The failure rate will be very high.

In what is believed to be the first such case this year, a provincial assembly candidate from Sinarancang village in West Java sought help from a local spiritual leader on Thursday after finding out he had won very few votes.

TV footage showed Mr Witarsa, still wearing his Democratic Party jacket, breaking into tears as the cleric doused him with water and recited a prayer for him.

Last month, Social Affairs Minister Salim Segaf Aljufri urged state hospitals to be ready to treat candidates in distress.

In Jakarta, the Soeharto Heerdjan hospital has set aside 14 rooms for such cases.

Marzoeki Mahdi, built in 1882 and now run by the Health Ministry, is the oldest mental hospital in Indonesia. After the 2009 election, it treated nine failed candidates, who were hospitalised for depression, and several dozen outpatient cases. Some treatments lasted several months.

In almost all the cases, the candidates had spent huge sums of money on their campaigns, from printing posters and T-shirts to holding rallies. Some even sold their cars or used their homes as collateral to fund their campaigns.

Dr Abdul Farid Patutie, Marzoeki Mahdi's head of organisation and external relations, said one man refused to leave his bedroom for several days until his family members persuaded him to seek treatment.

"We normally receive such patients a week after the election. Others come weeks later with milder symptoms of depression that do not require them to be hospitalised," he added.

Observers note that these contests can be fierce, with candidates willing to take a huge gamble because the rewards are worth it. Errant MPs and assemblymen are often in the news, arrested or jailed for abusing their authority and accepting lucrative kickbacks.

It is this vicious circle that leads candidates to risk overstretching their resources and then breaking down when they fail, said psychiatrist Lahargo Kembaren, who treated such candidates at Marzoeki Mahdi five years ago.

Doctors must engage patients in dialogue and discussion to improve their mental condition, Dr Lahargo told The Straits Times.

"This is why we doctors should also understand politics."


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