Indonesians here take keen interest in polls back home

AFTER a day of cooking and cleaning, Ms Yatik is ready for a taste of politics.

The 36-year-old Indonesian maid is a volunteer for Mr Yoga Dirga Cahya, who is seeking a seat in Parliament in their country's coming general elections.

Using a laptop, Ms Yatik spends an hour every night planning Mr Yoga's schedule during his weekly visits to Singapore.

On Sundays, her days off, she follows Mr Yoga to social events where he meets Indonesians living in Singapore.

Ms Yatik, who has been working here for 13 years, supports his campaign for better treatment of Indonesia's migrant workers such as herself.

"I want to help Indonesians get to know politicians who will work hard for them," she says.

In a marked change, Indonesians in Singapore - from maids and students to working professionals - are taking a special interest in April's general elections, followed by presidential polls in July.

While most of those interviewed admit to being indifferent before to the point of not even voting, now they are looking forward to casting their ballot at the Indonesian embassy on April 6, three days before polls open back home.

Ms Monique Natahusada, president of the Indonesian Community Forum in Singapore, attributes the change to a better crop of candidates.

The country will have a new president since the incumbent Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is in his second term and cannot contest again under the law.

"Indonesians see this year as a chance to help our country have a fresh start since there will also be a new president," says Ms Monique, whose organisation represents the views of 200,000 of her compatriots living in Singapore to their government.

There are nearly 20 presidential hopefuls. Indonesians here say those who have caught their eye include popular Jakarta governor Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, former army general Prabowo Subianto and university rector Anies Baswedan.

Engineer Arie Sukriadi says he was so moved by Dr Anies' call for his educated countrymen to give back to society that he and other Indonesian professionals working here invited him for a talk at the Indonesian embassy on Sunday so others - 400 people turned up - could be inspired too.

"I hope this event will inspire Indonesians to work hard and contribute to their communities and country," says the 26-year-old, who graduated from Nanyang Technological University and has been living here since 2007.

Investment banker Kennie Tjahyono, 27, meanwhile rallied seven of his fellow Indonesians - all working here - to launch the website Kampanye Putih - White Campaign - last September.

They believe that transparency among political candidates will help Indonesians vote wisely, which is why their website encourages the candidates to provide information on how their campaigns are funded.

A more informed electorate also means politicians are kept on their toes, admits Mr Yoga, 27, a candidate of the National Mandate Party.

"Voters ask me tough questions like what steps I will take to achieve my goals and what I want to do in my (first) 100 days in office," says the Singapore permanent resident, who studied at NTU. If voted in, he will represent overseas Indonesians as well as South and Central Jakarta.

Ms Yatik, who was asked by Mr Yoga to assist him last August after they were introduced to each other by mutual friends, says more Indonesian maids are better educated and so are increasingly critical of politicians.

"We are tired of listening to empty promises," she says.

Ms Yatik, who is studying for a degree in English translation at the Indonesian School in Siglap, adds: "We want politicians who will make real changes."

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.