Local Parliamentary Candidates With Disabilities Under The Encirclement of Stigma

The upcoming 2024 election contestation is just counting the days. From city to village streets, dozens of billboards featured various faces dressed in party uniforms. Despite the fact that the release of the Fixed Candidate List (DCT) has not yet been officially issued. In other ways, the public actually still questioned the capacity of numerous legislative candidates with disabilities in the current year’s legislative elections.

In the decline of dawn, the sun slowed rises on the southern shoreline. Most people begin their routine activity, Including Xaverius (60), a resident of Bola District in Sikka Regency, Flores Island, East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) who was busy sweeping his yard.

After cleaning the yard, he performed morning worship and then sipped a paired cup of coffee and biscuits. He did this activity before going to work. Xavier is a farmer who grows coconuts and also sells fish occasionally.

While having a casual conversation with Prohealth.id, Xavier appeared to be shocked to hear information that there were several legislative candidates with disabilities participating at the regency and provincial DPRD levels in the 2024 election.

“Is there a possibility for a person with a disability to become a candidate?” he said astonished when interviewed by Prohealth.id on August 5th, 2023.

Xaverius is not the only person who feels doubted against candidates with disabilities. In another regency, Ferdinandus (47), a resident from Kotabaru District in Ende Regency, Flores, expressed the same thing. The local people considered Ferdinandus to be literate more in local politics. The man who owns a basic food outlet and daily manages a cashew (cash nut) plantation, was once involved as a member of the Rural Consultative Council (BPD) in Tou Village, Kotabaru District. As a businessman, he frequently travels 60 kilometers from Maumere to Kotabaru. That’s why he is considered to be sensitive to developments in Sikka and Ende Regencies.

“Isn’t it that a legislative candidate should be in accordance with the provisions, physically and mentally healthy? How about disability, Is there according to the rules?” he said during an interview with Prohealth.id on August 7th, 2023.

Hesitation about the ability of people with disabilities in parliament is a consequence of the stigma that is still deeply rooted in society. This was delivered by a female candidate with disabilities, Maria Norma Yunita Ngewi.

Approximately 37 years ago, Norma was born healthy. Her memory remains clear when she was 3-4 years old, she could still run with friends his age in Krokowolon, Maumere, Flores. However, at the age of 6, Norma fell ill with polio because being her family and infrastructure condition of the village, she was unable to access the vaccine. Until finally she became physically disabled.

Vulnerability due to the stigma against persons with disabilities led little Norma to enter an orphanage, living separately from her family. She was raised by a missionary from Belgium, Merie Jeanne Colson, or who is more familiarly called Mama Belgi.


Norma’s commitment to fulfilling the basic rights of persons with disabilities has also earned her the trust of the Nian Sikka Disabled Care Forum (FORSADIKA) as chairman in 2018-2021. After completing her chair as chairperson at FORSADIKA, Norma decided to join the Orin Itan Indonesia Foundation (YOI) which focuses on restoring health and fulfilling the basic rights of patients with rare and chronic diseases, including persons with disabilities.

“When I got involved in this humanitarian issue, I went to rural villages and it turned out that there were many friends like me who were having much more difficult times than me,” Norma told Prohealth.id on the sidelines of her activities to visit people with disabilities on August 5th, 2023.

The clock shows 10.30 WITA. The sun has scorching up. Norma and Muhammad Aryo, founder of the Indonesian Orin Itan Foundation paid a visit to the house of Theresia Advenia (20) usually called Ana, a person with disabilities in Kewapante District.

Ana’s health was far worse than expected when we arrived at the spot. Ana lives in a modest 2×3 meter home with no adequate toilet facilities. She was raised by her parents and four younger siblings. Ana’s mother, Margareta Dagensu (46), works every day to care for the house, while her husband is unemployed. He is irregularly between working as a motorcycle cab driver and as a tool and construction worker. Meanwhile, he is responsible for four more children in junior high and primary school.

Margareta couldn’t hold back her tears telling about her struggles to care for Ana. In the beginning, Ana was born as the eldest in good condition without any complaints or illness. Suddenly when she was in kindergarten, Ana experienced paralysis.

Ana couldn’t talk or move her limbs. She can only move about in the arms of her parents. Ana will drag her legs in a rigid stance if no one is carrying her. Ana’s sensitive skin was covered with dirt-filled friction scars created by blisters.

“So, when Ana was about to enter elementary school, she suddenly became disabled because she was sick at first,” Margareta explained.

People in her neighborhood have frequently referred to Ana as a ‘disabled child’ since then. He has been alienated from the community.

Agustinus and Margareta only got access to the Family Hope Program (PKH) through Social Services. Ana has not yet received a Disability Card as mandatory to Minister of Social Affairs Regulation Number 2 of 2021.  According to Norma, just 10 persons in the Kewapante District have gotten a Disability Card. There are still hundreds of other people with disabilities in the area.

Hearing Margareta and her husband, Agustinus Gusti (52), Norma’s explanation came to the conclusion that Ana has cerebral palsy. She experienced disturbances in muscles, movement, and body coordination.

“In terms of medical treatment, this is really tough, Mama. “Because she is already 20 years old, this is only feasible with therapy, and you must be patient during the process,” Norma told the husband and wife couple.

Norma stroked Margareta’s back, who kept crying while hugging Ana in his arms. “You have to be patient, Mom. I also experienced it. I appreciate Mama’s patience in caring for Ana,” She remarked.

Norma and Aryo then asked Ana’s family for a consent letter to launch an internet fundraising campaign to assist Ana in getting basic rights. One of them is helping the family to build toilets and bathrooms, access to clean sanitation, and wheelchairs.

“Mama please pray that we would tell Ana’s story so that other people, good people, could help her.” “We’ll try Kitabisa.com, Benihbaik, or Berbuatbaik,” Norma said.


Dare to Become Candidate

It turned out that Ana’s house was only one of around 569 houses for people with disabilities in Sikka, Flores Island, which Norma and Aryo, along with other YOI teams, had visited. A total of 569 patients had a variety of illnesses ranging from cancer, and various disabilities, to people with mental disorders (ODGJ). He went inside homes where ODGJ victims were still shackled, particularly in Nagekeo and Ngada Regencies.

Trips to see sick people remind Norma of her own journey in life. She started advocacy to minimize charitable perspectives on persons with disabilities. “Just giving an occasional charity. Finished. In fact, it should use a human rights-based approach so that it becomes inclusive, equal, ” she said.

Norma also criticizes the perspective of the central and local governments in the past which alienated people with disabilities from the community and simplified brought them into institutions, namely orphanages. In fact, people with disabilities have the same needs, they must receive attention and love from the family organization, which includes their father, mother, and siblings.

“That’s what we’re fighting for right now,” She added. “Disabled people should not enter orphanages because there is a risk of relationships breaking down between children and families.”

In order to instill an equal and inclusive perspective, Norma has tried several methods. Both socially participatory, to public advocacy. It is not surprising that this alumnus of the Faculty of Economics, Nusa Nipa University, Maumere, was once a candidate for the National Commission on Disabilities (KND) for the 2021-2026 period. Even though she didn’t pass for the KND commissioners, Norma continued to work to promote inclusive understanding supported by appropriate regulations.

“That’s why for the last 3 years I have pushed for regulations [in Sikka Regency] for inclusive accessibility. Because to this day, it has not been implemented even though there is Law Number 8 of 2016 concerning Persons with Disabilities. In advocacy, the voice is person by person, in parliament, more people can hear their voices,” she explained.

Non-inclusive accessibility in Sikka Regency is reflected in government buildings that are not disability-friendly. For example, in the DPRD building or Lepo Kulobabong, there are no ramps and guiding blocks that make it easier for people with disabilities to walk. The streets in the central city are also not equipped with guiding blocks that help blind people mobilize independently.

“We [people with disabilities] want to meet with the government and the member’s council, but we are hampered by physical mobility issues.” We also want to go down to the patient’s residence and inspect its accessibility. “Whether it’s with assistive devices or not, don’t give a wheelchair but don’t use it,” Norma remarked.

Pessimistic about the atmosphere in the central city, Norma along with Forsadika and the legal aid agency tried to get into the villages. He invited the village community to build a village disability group and a village elderly group. The empowerment of this vulnerable group was also encouraged to take advantage of the allocation of 3 percent of the village fund. All it takes is a Decree (SK) from the village head to make that happen. However, not all village leaders have an inclusive perspective.

“With village funds alone, it is actually possible to empower groups for the vulnerable. Create capacity-building skills. Here we have to go to the roots of the grass, so I’m motivated to be a legislative candidate,” She said.

She hopes that if God blesses her to become a Councilwomen, the draft regional regulation for Persons with Disabilities in Sikka Regency  (ranperda) which has been stalled for the past three years, will soon be implemented.

According to Norma, even after the Perda is ratified, there are still further challenges. She said that Perda might just become a legislative document stacked in a library, without any implementation. “Therefore, the socialization of basic rights should not stop. And don’t just sit still, have to come down to the public.”

After a lot of consideration, Norma’s choice fell to the Gerindra Party. Not without a reason. Previously, several parties had begged Norma to join as candidates for the 2024 election. Nonetheless, Norma judges that the Gerindra Party was one of the parties that had proven to accommodate disability rights and the party that had also proposed the Bill on Persons with Disabilities until it was finally passed in 2016.

Responding to the public’s reaction to doubts about the abilities of disabled legislative candidates, Norma didn’t bother. Reflecting on her own life experience, she can achieve well in regular schools, without having to go to special schools (SLB).

“I have done everything I can to remove the stigma. I’ve done it with real, I have had the ability since school. Even if I have to sign a statement if I can’t do it, I’ll be kicked out. It turned out that I could.”

Moreover, continued Norma, everyone on this earth actually has a chance to be disabled at different times. It doesn’t mean to condemn, but Norma says socialization is necessary to reconstruct the perspective and understanding of every individual in looking at people with disabilities.

“I’d like to invite people to introspect. Perhaps you also have the potential to become disabled, due to illness, unhealthy lifestyle, or because of age. This is an extreme way, but I don’t condemn it, everyone will be disabled in time, including in terms of age.”

“Remember, disability is a deficiency in physical and psychological functions, not a curse,” she added.

Norma seems to be still in tension heading into 2024. However, she admits that she is sincere about whatever the outcome of the election would be. She felt she did her best. Especially after she participated in The Women’s Institute on Leadership and Disability (WILD) program funded by Mobility International USA (MIUSA) at the University of Oregon, United States.

If she doesn’t get a seat in the DPRD, Norma plans to pursue her studies at the University of Oregon, one of the inclusive campuses that has captivated her heart.


The fate of disability voters

Focusing on fighting for the fulfillment of the basic rights of people with disabilities, Norma can actually be said to have quite a big chance to be able to secure one seat in the Sikka Regency DPRD.

The Chairman of the Sikka District General Election Commission (KPU), Yohanes Kristomus Fery Soge, stated that the total number of disabled permanent voters (DPT) in Sikka Regency reached 4,508 people, out of a total of 244,222 DPT for the 2024 Election. This figure ranks second highest in the NTT region after North Central East Regency (TTU).

“There are 35 DPRD seats in Sikka Regency, if divided by 244,222 voters, then 1 legislative candidate needs 6000 to 6900 more votes. There are 4,508 DPTs with disabilities, Let’s just say roughly, if all the voters go to the polling station and all their votes are valid, She (legislative candidate) can get it. “Almost equivalent to 1 seat,” he explained to Prohealth.id when met at his office on August 3rd, 2023.

The high disability rate in the Sikka district is due to many things.

According to Fery, potential natural disasters such as tsunamis, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions such as Mount Egon add to the vulnerability of people to disability in disaster-prone areas.

Not to mention that the number of accidents in Sikka Regency is quite high due to roads that do not have complete infrastructure, bad roads, to the habit of drunk driving while driving.

Of the 4,508 DPTs with disabilities, Prohealth.id noted that Ana, a cerebral palsy patient in Wairlong, was one of the voters who was included in the DPT data from Kewapante District. However, Ana was only verified through her Family Card (KK), because until now Ana did not have a Citizen Identity Card (KTP).

Responding to this, Fery said that so far the data collection process for the community was still done manually from door to door. KPU officers must attach KTP and KK data for each house with persons with disabilities.

For disabilities with special characteristics, such as mental illness and intellectual disabilities, KPU officials do not even have a medical certificate. Identification of the type of disability can only be obtained from family information.

“The indicator of the differential disability is like what, it is unknown. This is just data collection from KPU officials, based on family information, not from the health services. We don’t know exactly the validity of the type of disability,” he said.

In the voting process, Fery also admitted that there were still several preparations that were not optimal regarding fulfilling disability rights

One visible sign is that the KPU office is not yet friendly towards people with disabilities, there are no ramps or guiding blocks. The stairs to enter the KPU office are still too high for people with physical disabilities. Not to mention the technical preparations for the construction of polling stations in villages where the road has not always been smooth.

Apart from infrastructure, voting officers (PPS) also do not fully have the ability to provide ballot papers with braille templates. This will make it difficult for people with visual disabilities to choose on the D-day.

“There are not many resources that understand braille.  That’s why we’re allowed to have an escort or our officers at the TPS so they can be accompanied for the voting. Because not all voters here understand braille.”

Fery claims that his party still has to learn and adapt by asking for help from civil society groups who care about disabilities to operate braille template ballot papers.

“We can now only make sure that the TPS will be friendly, the table will not be too high or too low, and then we prepared a wheelchair,” he said.

In addition to ensuring that disabled people use their voting rights, Fery said Sikka’s KPU has coordinated with the disability care institutions in Sikka Regency to be able to invite disability activists to be involved in the electoral process as officers and volunteers in the Voting Organizers Group (KPPS), and the District Election Commission (PPK).

The involvement of people with disabilities is crucial, given that in the forthcoming elections, there will be 1,005 polling stations in the Sikka Regency. There were 894 polling stations in the previous election. “There is an addition of 111 polling stations, which means we have to prepare more officers,” said Fery.

Responding to the dynamics at the regional KPU level regarding legislative candidates and voters with disabilities, Indonesian KPU Commissioner Idham Holik said that based on current data, the Fixed Voter List (DPT) with disabilities has reached 1,101,178 people throughout Indonesia. Or 0.54 percent of the total number of domestic DPTs. From this data, as many as 264,594 DPTs throughout Indonesia were categorized as mental disabilities. Meanwhile, DPT for the intellectual disability category reached 55,421 people.

Based on the data, Idham assured the KPU in various areas will get intensive socialization for the use of braille template votes. Braille letters are not necessarily easy to understand by members of the KPPS members,  so the KPU will provide assistance permits for voters with disabilities.

“The KPPS will provide assistance if needed. But we will also socialize if his family can help voters with disabilities use their right to vote by preserving the independence of political choices. Currently, priority is given to the family, but if the voters with disabilities need accompaniment from the KPPS then the officers will provide services,” he explained.

Responding to the KPU’s response, the Executive Director of Perludem Khoirunnisa Agustyati stated that the KPU’s current mechanism for providing assistance for people with disabilities is not ideal. This means that there is still a lot of room that needs to be improved to accommodate disability rights because the current system does not guarantee the principles of direct, public, free, and confidential elections.

“Voters must be tried to give their choices directly. Therefore it is necessary to open access to voters with disabilities in order to be able to give them their right to vote directly,” She told Prohealth.id when contacted via WhatsApp on August 23rd, 2023.

She explained that this is evident from the access given to voters with disabilities is not even optimal. For example, for visually impaired voters. Even if there is a braille template, the letter is only available for the presidential and DPD elections. As a result, to elect the DPR RI and DPRD, voters with disabilities still need an accompaniment.

Ariani Soekanwo, Chairman of the Public Election Centre for Disabilities Access (PPUAD), added that the political rights of people with disabilities have been officially stated in Act No. 8 of 2016 concerning Persons with Disabilities.

Moreover, Indonesia has ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) via Law No. 19 of 2011. This means that the right of people with disabilities to choose must not be restricted. This political right also includes the right to become a legislative candidate or as an election organizer committee.

“We always come to the DPR RI every five years, inserting and ensuring that the article about disabilities is not ignored. If anything hasn’t been accommodated, we’re urging it to be inserted. Although it is still clear that there is a challenge from the diction that a legislative candidacy must be physically and mentally healthy,” explained Ariani.

According to Ariani, the statement fortunately did not do much to prevent the disabled group from moving forward in the contest. “After all, the disabilities legislative candidates who are running are generally not the disabilities legislative candidates who are just sitting around. They were activist friends who were proposed by the party. Well, if we were, wouldn’t be subjected to physical and mental rules.”

However, according to Ariani, the increasing trend of candidates with disabilities in the 2019 period, is still a sign that many candidates with disabilities have become ‘shocked candidates’ in order to meet the party’s quota at the district/city level. This condition highlights the fact that there are still many disabled candidates who are prone to just becoming the party’s gain voters. As a result, the success rate of the 28 district/city legislative candidates in 2019 was less than 1%.

“In cases like this, we encourage them not to become ‘shock candidates’. “You have to be a party cadre, educated by the party, familiar with the party organization, vision, and mission, as well as political dynamics within the party,” said Ariani.

Ariani also remarked that civil society groups that have been a refuge for persons with disabilities will assist the legislative candidates in order to dispel concerns and public doubt about the ability of people with disabilities.

She affirmed that the form of support that was given was not by promoting one of the parties. To preserve independence, civil society organizations can be involved in organizing empowerment and social activities for people with disabilities.

Perludem Executive Director Khoirunnisa Agustyati added that the principle of inclusive elections should guarantee that no group is excluded from electoral politics, including those with disabilities. However, inclusivity in election contestation must be observed, not just in the amount of representation but ensuring political transformation.

“If this [disability] is used as a vote getter by the party, it’s inevitable. Moreover, we use an open proportional electoral system, where voters can choose their legislative candidates directly. “It is the duty of political parties to ensure that the campaigns they conducted are not just symbolic, but emphasizes ideas and ideas,” She said.

The existence of an inclusive social environment can only be achieved if the disabled are not just political objects, but political subjects, or political actors themselves.

Editor          : Marina Nasution

Infographic  : Abdus Somad


Overseas Voters’ Turnout Shrink

Binti Rosidah is one of more than 1.6 million Indonesians living and working in Malaysia. She has been working as a domestic worker in Kuala

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