Grace Natalie: The anomaly in Indonesian politics

Grace Natalie: The anomaly in Indonesian politics
Grace Natalie

Grace Natalie, the chairwoman of the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI), represents everything different in the national political scene.

She's 32 and a woman - anomalies in Indonesia, where middle-aged men dominate politics. Grace is also Chinese-Indonesian and a Christian - attributes that have been used by unscrupulous politicians to foster anti-foreign and Islamist sentiments for their own gains.

Also unusually, Grace does not come from a political or business dynasty. She's solidly middle class, having built her career as a journalist, television presenter and the chief executive officer of research institution before entering politics.

Born in Jakarta, Grace studied at the BPK Penabur Christian senior high school. While studying accounting at the Indonesian Business and Information Institute (IBII), she also taught religious education to children at Sunday school.

Her career in journalism began when she participated in the "SCTV Goes To Campus" programme, which sought young college students to be trained as journalists. In 2004, Grace started work as an anchor and a journalist for SCTV. Despite her relative inexperience, she was assigned cover the aftermath of the 2004 Aceh tsunami.

Grace came to national attention as an anchor and journalist for TVOne in 2008, covering topics ranging from the economy to terrorism while garnering several exclusives. Grace also learned how to live with risks, such as when a person tried to stab her during a live show.

She changed tacks in 2012, joining the Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting as its CEO to spend more time with her family.

In an interview with The Jakarta Post, Grace said that she was aware of her outsider status in local politics. "I consider this [entering politics] as a test to see how far our country has gone," she says. "Decades ago, we dared not think that a Chinese-Indonesian and a Christian might become the governor of Jakarta, but history has finally given us such a figure - and practically shown how our society has grown into something more tolerant and democratic."

"This test will see whether our society has become even more advanced in seeing a person based on their performance and on substantial issues rather than on things, such as race and ethnicity," she adds.

It is also fair to say that Grace represents the future of Indonesian politics. As a woman, Grace can open doors for the PSI to attract woman voters, while her ethnicity provides more options for Chinese-Indonesian voters who have been more interested in politics since Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama became the governor of Jakarta.

As a woman in her 30s, Grace will appeal to youth, who comprise the largest portion of the country's demographics. She said that she felt disgruntled by the current situation, where politics seems to cater old elites and blocks the nation from making progress.

"Up until the 2014 general elections, I had no thought of becoming a political party leader," Grace said. "However, when I read the survey results, I saw that old figures showed up again and again. It seemed it was very hard for a new young figure to emerge."

She notes that even President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo needed months to secure his nomination from the PDI-P. "So, along with several friends who share the same feeling, I thought that we needed to establish a political party, which will become vehicle to help good young figures to emerge."

With less than 10 founders, the PSI was born and Grace accepted the mandate to become the party's chairwoman five months ago. "AT the PSI, the chairperson will not be nominated for the presidency or any public post. My job is only an administrator, not to be involved in political praxis," she said.

The PSI is a party for the young and the brave who share a dream of a better future for Indonesia, according to her. This spirit is shown in the party's current central board structure, which consists only of people under 50.

According to the party, which is currently in the process of registering in all of the nation's provinces to gain formal status as a political party, almost two-thirds of its central board members are between 21 and 30.

"It is very easy to move young people," Grace says. "As long as they share the same dreams, they are willing to work even without any monetary benefits."

"The party uses a modern management philosophy to ensure its core remains solid and will not be driven into conflict simply by lust for the top post," Grace says. "I realise I do not have any prior political experience, so I feel very comfortable with the role given to me as the chairperson."

Grace said that she spoke with her husband, Kevin Osmond, at length before accepting the post. "We discussed for about a month […] My husband's support is very important to me. Without his support, I would not take the mandate that was given to me. Eventually, he did not only give me his permission, he even asked me about what he could do to help."

With Kevin's support, Grace said that she had enough confidence to plunge herself into politics.

"I believe that everything that I do from now on will be for the good of my son and the future generations," Grace said referring to her one-year-old child, Kenzo Alexander Osmond.

"We want to achieve something good for the future and if there is a price to pay for it, then so be it," she said.

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