Sleepless nights for Indonesia's election 'losers'

Political hopeful Yayat Abdurahman checked into an Islamic healing centre where a cleric prayed for his future and doused him in flower-infused water as part of a traditional cleansing ritual.
PHOTO: AFP

CIREBON, Indonesia - Political hopeful Yayat Abdurahman bet that he would be a winner among some 245,000 candidates in Indonesia's huge election last week, but his dreams of public office are fading fast as the votes get tallied.

So the stressed-out candidate checked into an Islamic healing centre, where a cleric prayed for his future and doused him in flower-infused water as part of traditional cleansing ritual.

"At the beginning, I was optimistic and feeling confident," he said. "I thought 'I have to win, I have to get the most votes'. But now I'm feeling more doubtful."

If Mr Yayat loses when the world's third-biggest democracy publishes official results next month, he won't be alone.

More than 200,000 candidates in Muslim majority Indonesia's biggest-ever election will miss their goal, leaving many with no job and, often, huge campaign debts.

"They are stressed out, they can't sleep," said Mr Ujang Busthomi, head of the Islamic healing centre in West Java's Cirebon city, where Mr Yayat joined some half a dozen candidates admitted for post-election treatment.

"They have run out of money and don't know how they'll pay off their debts," he added.

WOUNDED POLITICAL WARRIORS

Hospitals nationwide have been gearing up for an expected influx of post-poll patients seeking treatment for stress, depression and other maladies - an election-time staple in the South-east Asian archipelago.

Among them is a psychiatric hospital in Makassar on Sulawesi island that did a pre-election renovation to make way for wounded election warriors.

"In the last legislative elections, there were candidates put in hospital because they had psychiatric disorders or depression after they failed to get elected," said Dadi hospital director Arman Bausat.

"Every time there's an election, some candidates get hospitalised."

While politicians in other countries are also at risk of post-election anxiety, Indonesia's system raises the odds.

Hopefuls do not receive financial support from their parties and they have to fork out a down payment from their own pockets to run - and often end up competing against both rivals and fellow party members who they may be close to personally and politically.

Even for the winners, victory in corruption-riddled Indonesia can mean resorting to taking bribes in order to pay off big campaign debts, observers said.

Ms Rasmi Sikati knows the bitter sting of political defeat.

The 38-year-old cancelled her candidacy in this year's polls after recalling the time, energy and money spent on an unsuccessful run for a local legislative job in 2014.

"The amount of money I had to spend wasn't small - it was millions of rupiah (thousands of dollars)," Ms Rasmi told AFP, using a pseudonym.

"But that's nothing compared to my self-esteem. I was embarrassed and hurt. That was the heaviest psychological burden."

'STILL OPTIMISTIC'

The likely losers this year include presidential challenger Prabowo Subianto, 67, whose repeated claims that he won last week's polls defy strong evidence that he lost to incumbent Joko Widodo.

While his refusal to concede defeat has seen the wealthy former general pilloried online, he doesn't have much to worry about money-wise.

But it is a different story for many of the record number of candidates vying for some 24,000 legislative jobs, from the presidency and Parliament down to local legislators.

Many took out loans or sold assets to finance their run.

Given the stakes, some candidates are holding out for the final results.

Mr Akhmad Batara Parenta, 40, isn't ready to concede defeat, even though his party appears to have fallen short of the minimum parliamentary threshold, meaning he will almost certainly have no political job come May.

"I'm still optimistic because not all the votes have been counted at this stage," he said.

The long-shot candidate also offered some advice for scores of stressed-out compatriots.

"They should stay calm because even if they lose, it's okay."

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