A Tale of Two Chinese Indonesian Politicians: The Political Glass Ceiling for Chinese Indonesians

Dr Wu Ling Chong1

1University Of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

This study examines the experiences and challenges encountered by Chinese Indonesians running for public office in post-Suharto Indonesia. The opening up of a more liberal socio-political environment in post-Suharto Indonesia has significantly improved the position of Chinese Indonesians as they are now allowed to openly express their ethnic identity as well as actively participate in politics. Nevertheless, indigenous Indonesians generally still perceive them as an alien minority group that dominates the economy of the country. Indigenous Indonesians generally have less issues with Chinese Indonesians getting elected as legislators but tend to have more issues with them becoming local government heads because local government heads have relatively greater power compared to legislators. Some indigenous Indonesians are afraid that if more Chinese Indonesians are elected as local government heads, they would become more powerful both in the economy and politics, and subsequently threaten the position of indigenous Indonesians. Hence, Chinese Indonesians still encounter challenges and obstacles related to identity politics in post-Suharto electoral politics, especially when running for local government heads in big cities. The experiences of two Chinese Indonesian politicians –Ahok (former governor of Jakarta) and Sofyan Tan (current legislator) are taken as case studies to showcase such challenges and obstacles.


Wu-Ling Chong is a senior lecturer at the Department of Southeast Asian Studies, University of Malaya (UM), Malaysia. Her research interests include ethnic Chinese studies and political sociology. She is the author of Chinese Indonesians in Post-Suharto Indonesia: Democratisation and Ethnic Minorities (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2018).


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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