March 18, 2019
Women Legislative Candidates Struggle to Finance Their Campaigns

Women legislative candidates’ winning rate remain low as they struggle to finance their campaigns.

by Shafira Amalia, Reporter
Issues // Politics and Society
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“The best time to buy property is right before the election,” said Firliana Purwanti, a legislative candidate from the Democratic Party. “There are many desperate candidates needing all the money they can get. Including me.”

A gender activist-turned politician, Firliana is among those running for the legislature this year who have resorted to selling their property to finance their campaign. Ten years ago she decided to dive straight into the patriarchal world of Indonesian politics, climbing her way up to the top. She is now serving as the party’s head of Advocacy and Legislation Bureau in the Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Department.

“Years in the women’s movement, I have learned that making change from the outside takes time. I decided if you can’t beat them, join them,” she said.

To her, the problem with Indonesian politics is the quality of the political parties and politicians. Concerning her most is the parties’ neglect of issues that matter most, one of them women’s issues.

But her political career has not always been smooth sailing.

“As a woman in Indonesian politics, one of the most effective ways to be seen and heard is if you are truly outstanding. Many women thrive in politics because they come from political families – the daughter of a district head or the niece of a well-known politician,” Firliana tells Magdalene.

“There are a handful of women who struggled to the very top with their own achievements. I am one of them; I am here now after seven years of hard work, and that’s not easy,” she said. She has made it to the second on the list of candidates for national legislature in the electoral district of West Kalimantan.

Indeed, when it comes to running for parliament women candidates have to fight twice as hard as their male counterparts.

Ella Prihatini, a former journalist whose research focuses on women’s political participation, said in the podcast Talking Indonesia that Indonesian female candidates have continued to increase over time. This year the number of female legislative candidates reached 40 percent of all candidates this year, up from 32 percent in 2004, when the country first imposed a 30 percent quota for women legislative candidates.

Despite the increase, however, women candidates have always had a low winning rate – 3.9 percent in the last election in 2014, up slightly from 2.4 percent ten years ago. Currently women make up 19.8 percent of the 560-strong Parliament. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), Indonesia ranks 103rd in the world in terms of women’s parliamentary representation.

While the 30 percent quota has helped boost the number of female candidates in the election, it has failed to increase the number of women legislators significantly. Many parties, which are still largely run by male politicians, claim it is hard for them to find women candidates who are serious in pursuing a career in politics.

She quoted party officials as saying: “’We can hardly find women that are electable, interested in politics, or who can help us win the election,’ they told me.” 

But expensive campaign fund and money politics deter women from running for office.

Ella recalled asking gender activist and former legislator Nursyahbani Katjasungkana about the little interest women have in running for parliament: “’Women asked for the quota but where are they now?’ I asked Nursyahbani. Her answer was simple: ‘it’s bloody expensive!’”

Legislative candidate Wahida Baharuddin, from Democratic Party, said Indonesian politics is still very transactional, which makes it hard for candidates with limited funds to win.

“Any candidate that push forward without enough funds will certainly face serious problems in such a transactional election,” Wahida said.

Most candidates have to fund everything themselves, especially since there is no financial support from political parties. A legislative candidate spends a lot of money while going on the stump, mostly to cover meetings with their constituents. In addition they have to spend on banners and other promotional attributes.

“I have been selling my property to fund my campaigns, everything is so expensive,” said Firliana. While money isn’t guarantee of winning, having it sure helped boost a person’s chance of being recognized by their constituents.

“There are so many quality candidates that has low chance to win due to limited funds,” said Firliana. “While the more money the candidates have, the more popular they get. You know, with all the banners along the side of the roads.”

Some candidates resort to more creative ways to securing funding. Nanik Herlina from Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa Party or Nation’s Awakening Party (PKB) receives some of her funding from the local community organizations.

“These local community organizations support the same issues I champion. And they contribute mostly in the forms of short term donations like transportation costs, meeting costs and some attributes like stickers,” she said.

In her electoral district in Lombok Timur, Nanik, who runs for the district legislature, focuses her campaign on domestic violence. She is also pushing for the inclusion of women’s rights for reproductive health in the regional bylaws.

Firliana went a step further to try to crowdfund her campaign by registering on the website Dukung Calonmu (Support Your Candidates), where people can donate campaign funding to their candidates.

“I haven’t gotten a single cent though, and it’s been months!” She said. “I guess people don’t really know how much help it would mean to us.”

”Anyways,” she continued half-jokingly, ”anybody interested in buying property?”

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Illustration by Sarah Arifin

Shafira Amalia is an International Relations graduate from Parahyangan Catholic University in Bandung. Too tempted by her passion for writing, she declined the dreams of her young self to become a diplomat to be a reporter. Her dreams is to meet Billie Eilish but destroying patriarchy would be cool too.

Follow her on Instagram at @sapphire.dust where she's normally active.