New breed of candidates from humble backgrounds

New breed of candidates from humble backgrounds
Motorcycle-taxi driver Sulaiman (front) waiting for passengers near a mall in Bekasi. He is among a new breed of political aspirants who, like Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo, hail from unassuming backgrounds.

MOTORCYCLE-TAXI driver Sulaiman, who is contesting a seat in the Bekasi city assembly, is grateful for all the interviews he has done lately on national television.

"I don't have money to fund my campaign," Mr Sulaiman, who like some Indonesians goes by one name, told The Straits Times, chuckling. "All this media attention is God's blessing. This is a free campaign."

The 37-year-old law school dropout is among a new breed of candidates from all over Indonesia who come from humble backgrounds.

They include shoe repairmen and parking attendants, and judging from the media attention they are getting, they are a breath of fresh air for a populace disgusted with stories of better-qualified yet corrupt assemblymen.

In Denpasar, Bali, shoe repairman Hartoyo Jabarudin, 40, is running for a seat in the city assembly. The Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) candidate has printed invoices with his name and a campaign message, which he gives to those whose shoes he fixes for between 20,000 rupiah (S$2.20) and 80,000 rupiah.

In Subang, West Java, car tyre repairman Raska is also on a PKS ticket, while in Banyuwangi, East Java, newspaper vendor Suratin is on a newly formed National Democrat Party ticket and hopes to get the support of her newspaper customers.

With high voter interest in Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo, a former furniture businessman, due to his common man's touch and clean image, political parties are similarly turning to candidates with unassuming backgrounds.

This is in stark contrast to 2009, when the spotlight was on celebrity candidates. The smaller parties also turn to these newbies to cobble together a full slate of candidates.

Mr Sulaiman started his political career two years ago, helping to hang up posters for a mayoral candidate for his hometown.

Soon after, he was tapped by the Muslim-based Crescent Star Party to run for the assembly.

He says he has spent only 200,000 rupiah to print 1,000 stickers. A senior party cadre paid for another 3,000 stickers, which he distributes to passengers in his taxi.

"This is how I introduce myself. Nothing else. I have no money to buy posters and all," he said.

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