Years before deputy governor-elect Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, often referred to simply as Ahok, ran in the Jakarta governor election, he considered moving to Canada because he was fed up with greedy officials asking him for money.
Before he became a legislator from Bangka Belitung province and a district head of East Belitung, Basuki was a businessman. He established a sand factory in Sumatra’s Belitung in 1995 and since then, he has had to pay a lot of “extra expenses” to public officials.
“It was really frustrating me,” he said in response to what was driving him to pursue an international move.
However, his father opposed the idea of his son leaving the country — and Basuki concurred.
It was 2004 when he began his path in politics, and three years later, he took office in East Belitung.
Basuki tells it all in a 39-minute documentary “Jadi Jagoan ala Ahok” (“Fight Like Ahok”), directed by Chandra Tanzil and Amelia Hapsari. The documentary was shot in 2009 when Basuki ran for parliament in Bangka Belitung.
At that time, Basuki was a little-known political figure. Amelia calls his journey to parliament as “a lone campaign.”
“He is the first of the Indonesian Chinese to become a high-ranking official in Bangka Belitung,” Amelia said.
The documentary was launched at German cultural center Goethe Haus in Jakarta on Friday evening, just one day after Basuki and Joko Widodo were elected to lead the city.
Amelia said that she and Chandra — both of Chinese descent — began filming the documentary because “Ahok was an unusual case.”
“Being a minority, he did not only approach Indonesian-Chinese people, but also those of Melayu descent,” she said. “He would never give out ‘souvenirs’ [a euphemism from bribes] even though he needed the recognition.”
This was a very peculiar case, Amelia explained. A person of Chinese descent would normally go to the Chinese community to seek support, and would use generosity to overcome unfavorable stereotypes. Amelia said that she and Chandra wondered if Basuki, with his unorthodox approach, would get a seat in the parliament.
“As people of Chinese descent, both Chandra and I sometimes fear that we are being seen as ungenerous by others, so we think Ahok is a different and quite straightforward person,” she said.
Documentary filmmaker Tino Saroengallo, who also attended the launch, said that even if Joko and Basuki had lost the election, the documentary would nonetheless still be relevant to Indonesians.
“After Ahok announced he was running in the Jakarta governor election with Joko, he asked me about the progress of this documentary,” Amelia said.
Now that the duo have won, Tino said it was an even better time for the film to be seen by public.
Tino said he thought the clash of race and religious issues in a political context was an interesting topic. In the past, someone of Chinese descent risked being unfairly judged as a communist, he added.
“In recent weeks, the stigma has changed,” he said, “[Basuki] is not Muslim, and it’s interesting to see how he talks with Bangka Belitung citizens about it.”
In the documentary, Basuki reveals his strategies to win votes in a Muslim-dominated community. He asked for voters not to choose politicians who are corrupt, even though they may be wearing Muslim garb. He also explained that he would rely on viral campaigns.
“If people like me, they will automatically vote for me,” Basuki said in the documentary. “I have to come to those who would not vote for me.”
He then met with villagers who asked him for souvenirs if he wanted them to vote for him. Basuki reacts honestly in the film.
“If I give you money when you ask for it, I will run out of money, because many will do the same,” he said. “If I was a government official, state money will run out if it goes to every cause.
“I want the people to understand that the government should not give money to the people, but once they get sick, they should not be ripped off.”
He then explained his idea of social security. And indeed, it was his free health insurance program that boosted his name as the regent of East Belitung.
George Arif, a Chinese-Indonesian man who attended the launch and said he voted for Joko and Basuki the day before, explained that he did not do so on the basis of their common ethnicity.
“[I voted for him] not because I’m Chinese and Ahok’s Chinese,” he explained. “I have already heard about him since he was a regent in Belitung.
“I do not felt represented by Ahok simply because he was the first Indonesian Chinese to become a government official, and I don’t think it’s necessary to have a person of Chinese descent in the government, because if we would follow that logic, we would still be trapped in the same racial prejudice.”
For film producer Abduh Aziz, the documentary was a portrayal of how democracy is practiced at a grassroots level.
“I think it shows how good Chandra was in seeing the trend of new leaders like Ahok,” he said. “This documentary could be a better political education than a traditional campaign.”
However, it was not easy to bring the documentary to an audience. There were financial problems and Chandra struggled with his health and died in 2011. Amelia found it difficult to finish the project on her own.
“When Ahok announced that he was running with Joko, he did ask me about the progress of the film, but it really needed extra hard work,” she said.
As soon as Joko won the Jakarta governor election on Thursday, he joined with State Enterprises Minister Dahlan Iskan to announce an underpass project to help ease the city’s traffic woes.
Basuki, on the other hand, established a hotline for Jakarta residents to propose ideas, similar to an idea that proved popular in Bangka Belitung.
Tino said Joko and Basuki sparked a debate among voters about charm, ideas and the significance of Javanese ethnicity.
“It will be interesting to see whether Ahok will manage to do in Jakarta what he did in Bangka Belitung,” Tino said.
“A deputy may not be as influential, but we know now that he is also a strong leader.”