Fears of tensions over polls in West Kalimantan overblown

The report (Ethnic tensions may flare as Kalimantan polls loom; March 26) gives the impression that the upcoming gubernatorial election in West Kalimantan will be marked by identity politics and be potentially divisive due to the different ethnic and religious backgrounds of the candidates.

Indonesia is a country with diversity in terms of ethnicity, language, culture and religion.

In Indonesian democracy, multi-parties and free media are part and parcel of the system. Citizens' rights, which include freedom of expression, assembly, to vote and to be nominated, are fully guaranteed by our Constitution.

Consequently, differences of views, opinions and political orientations may be utilised to heighten political tensions during elections.

Democratic expressions may sound noisy and campaign rallies may even look chaotic. This may give the impression of increasing tensions which could lead to conflict, but we should not forget that most elections, if not all, have been run peacefully.

Some regions even consider their local elections as colourful democratic festivities, which is demonstrated by people wearing their traditional costumes at the polling stations.

Observers will notice that national elections held since 1999, after the reform process, including more than 350 simultaneous local elections in the past three years, have been successfully held in a peaceful, free, fair and democratic manner, without any serious incidents.

This was possible due to the effective functioning of the election system, including the National Election Commission. Election disputes are adjudicated by the Constitutional Court, andits rulings are respected by all parties to the dispute, including the losers.

The Straits Times report also said that just 59 per cent of West Kalimantan's 4.5 million people are Muslims, compared with almost 90 per cent nationally. I would like to point out that in some provinces and districts in the eastern part of Indonesia, Muslims are a minority.

Also, for the record, 22 non-Muslim candidates were nominated by Islamic parties in the simultaneous local elections last year.

In light of all the above, to extrapolate the gubernatorial election in Jakarta last year to the upcoming gubernatorial election in West Kalimantan is unfair, simply because the context and timing of both elections are different.

Adhyanti Sardanarini Wirajuda

First Secretary (Political)

Embassy of Indonesia in Singapore


Our report was based on a study released by an independent research outfit, and on interviews with observers who reinforced its concerns over recent trends that could threaten Indonesia's tradition of diversity. It sought to convey how some parties were calling for mobilisation along religious lines ahead of the West Kalimantan polls, as happened during the last election in Jakarta.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 10, 2018, with the headline 'Fears of tensions over polls in West Kalimantan overblown'. Subscribe