By: Harison Citrawan
Jakarta citizens are welcoming their gubernatorial candidates who have registered with the Provincial Elections Commission for the July 11 race. While the official campaign season will only commence in April, political commentary regarding the prospects for the six pairs of candidates has been looming.
Rather than candidate platforms and programs, ethnic backgrounds and place of origin are unfortunately exploited by politicians to influence voters (The Jakarta Post, March 22). The term “imported” candidates hence arises and appears to be a political tool for those “native” candidates hoping to lure public support.
A question that we can raise is whether such political statements, if not negative campaigns, are in violation of our understanding on the principle of equality and nondiscrimination or not. Would it be truly acceptable, in the name of freedom of expression, to treat someone differently based on ethnic background or place of origin?
Legally speaking, the law preserves one’s right to participate in public affairs and the right of equal access to public service. Under Article 25 (a) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), “every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions and without unreasonable restrictions, to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives”.
Nonetheless, it is undeniable that one’s right to participate in public affairs cannot be separated from the freedom of opinion and expression to play the role as an essential part of public affairs, because otherwise the object and purpose of Human rights norms would be fruitless.
Subsequently, a question that follows, for the sake of freedom of expression, is whether ethnic backgrounds and place of origin can be justified under the Human Rights Law, in particular in a circumstance where the political dimension plays a great part? To answer the question, once and foremost, we need three approaches to justify interests in one’s expression: the speaker’s interest, audience interest and the public’s interest. Simply put, there are individual and social dimensions in such freedom.
Nevertheless, one should bear in mind that freedom of expression is not limitless. The prohibition of discrimination, as stated under Article 26 of the ICCPR, should serve as a blanket rule in determining the existence of discrimination. It is clear enough that the law protects every individual from discrimination on any grounds, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
To be more specific, to gain the fullest comprehension of discrimination, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination delineates that “racial discrimination shall mean any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life”.
Back to the “native” versus “imported” candidates, it is in my opinion that such a political attack through negative sentiment should not be covered under freedom of expression and opinion. Although I would argue that political commentaries and opinions as such are significant elements in the country’s marketplace of ideas, in particular during this pre-election moment, I would say that such an approach fails to draw us a close relation between ethnic and birth status differentiation with one’s professional governing ability.
Thus, such a claim could be considered discriminatory, based on Human Rights Law, as it entirely does not fulfill the objective and reasonable criteria of differentiation.
Additionally, any discriminatory nuanced sentiments based on ethnic and birth status marks a setback for political education in the country. Under the 2011 Law on Political Party, a political education should be given to the public within the frame of Pancasila, the Constitution and national unity. Hence, any groundless negative discrimination conveyed by political parties, including their cadres, may signify the lack of human rights comprehension within the political party system.
In summary, political competition is both a challenge and a chance for Indonesians to prove our political literacy. Particularly in Jakarta, the political tension might potentially be very high, therefore the public should be aware of negative discrimination nuanced political campaigns. Finally, it is also our hope that Jakarta voters elect their leader based on objective criteria, rather than unjustified issues, such as “native” and “imported” candidates.
Notice: This opinion article was displayed in an online newspaper, The Jakarta Post, in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Saturday, 31 March 2012. It is able also to be searched at: www.thejakartapost.com [accessed in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia: 3 April 2012].
The writer is a Jakartan, who is working at the Human Rights Research and Development Agency under the Law and Human Rights Ministry. The opinions expressed are his own.