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His name is Sofyan Tan alias Tan Kim Yang. He is a doctor, as well as an educator.

Long before the reform era rolled out, when schools in Medan were still compartmentalized between "native and non-native" schools, Sofyan Tan established a special school named Sultan Iskandar Muda College in the Sunggal area, which is located in the suburban area of ​​Medan.

This school is considered special because it carries out the mission of intermissal and implementing a cross subsidy system between students from capable and incapable families. Explicitly, students from the Chinese ethnic at the school paid more, to help students from various ethnicities who were financially less able. Then there is a foster system, where entrepreneurs-from various ethnicities and not only from the Chinese-give scholarship for a number of students who are considered to have achievements.

Sofyan Tan himself often appears in various forums talking about the problem of interbification and social inequality. As a result of frequent expression of his opinion strongly, including criticizing his own people, Sofyan Tan was less favored by some Chinese citizens in Medan. There are even a handful of conservative Chinese old figures who "black-listed" him. But this man who was born in 1959 seemed not to care. He continued to move forward with the principle of life that he said was for the good of the nation as a whole, which would eventually lead to goodness for ethnic Chinese in the country.

When the New Order regime fell and the transformation of various fields began to move, Sofyan Tan was increasingly confident in throwing himself into social activities. He, among others, was the Chairperson of the North Sumatra UKM Fornas for the North Sumatra Small and Medium Enterprises, also led the Lestari Ecosystem Foundation (YEL) engaged in the environmental field. When the political door began to open wide for ethnic Chinese, he did not waste the opportunity.

It can be said Sofyan Tan is one of the pioneers of the Medan Chinese ethnic pioneers entering the political arena. In 2004 for the first time he nominated himself as a member of the DPD (Regional Representative Council) from the electoral district (electoral district) of North Sumatra. The calculation at that time, the ethnic Chinese population that reached more than 300,000 people in North Sumatra would be enough to take him to become a senator.

But it turns out that from the Chinese circle it is not only Sofyan Tan who advanced. The Chairman of the North Sumatra INTI Association (Chinese Indonesian) at that time, Indra Wahidin, took part as a DPD candidate. In the same year, a number of Chinese citizens in several regions in North Sumatra became candidates (legislative candidates).

Sofyan Tan and Indra Wahidin failed to become DPD members due to ethnic Chinese votes in North Sumatra being divided because there were two candidates. Actually, at that time there were several parties from the Chinese community who had tried to lobby both, so that one of them relented and let only one person advance so that the ethnic Chinese votes were not split. But in reality both of them remain with their respective determination to move forward.

Failed at the DPD, that year four Chinese ethnic in North Sumatra made a surprise decision because they managed to get a seat in the legislature. The four are Sukiwi Cong (PDS/Partai Damai Sejahtera [Peace Party Prosperous]) in Binjai City, Timbul (PIB/Partai Indonesia Baru [New Indonesian Party]) in Serdangbedagai, Hakim Tjoa (PDIP/Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan [Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle]) in Tanjung Balai, and Kok Liang (PDIP) in Siantar.

The sitting of these four people as members of the council, after decades of Chinese ethnic in North Sumatra was passive in the world of politics, making 2004 a year of political revival for Chinese in this area. The passion of the Chinese to go into politics also spread in many regions in North Sumatra, especially in Medan City, which is marked by the increasing number of their administrators in a number of political parties.

In the 2009 elections, none of the Medan Chinese advanced to run for DPD members from North Sumatra. A figure from Medan who is now domiciled in Jakarta, Eddie Kusuma, actually advanced in the nomination of the DPD representing Jakarta. Although supported by a broad association and high enthusiasm, this former teacher in Medan who was successful in Jakarta was not yet good.

It is not known exactly why in the 2009 election, the Medan Chinese were not interested in participating in the DPD nomination. But from talks with several figures, it is known that the limited authority and role of DPD members are the main considerations, while the requirements for collecting thousands of ID cards and signatures are considered burdensome. There are also those who argue that the failure of Indra Wahidin and Sofyan Tan in the past period shrank their will.

As a result, the political interest of Chinese in this area was also channeled through the legislature. Surprisingly, the number exceeds what can be predicted. And they not only competed in many cities and districts in North Sumatra, but also "drove" different parties ranging from large to small parties. Those who participated consisted of a variety of professions. There are entrepreneurs, academics, journalists, youth leaders, employees and housewives. Almost all of them are still relatively young. Those whose ages are over 50 can be counted on the fingers. Even a young entrepreneur, Ruswin Lawin, former Chairman of the North Sumatra REI DPD, advanced as a candidate for the Indonesian Parliament.

In the campaign season, banners and billboards of Medan Chinese candidates took part in coloring the streets in this area and became a very interesting phenomenon. Ethnic Chinese people themselves are very enthusiastic about welcoming the courage of their "colleagues" to advance as candidates. In many places, especially on days before the election day, Medan Chinese gathered to discuss the list of candidates in their electoral districts and who they would choose. After all, there were also those who gave cynical comments and judged Chinese ethnic who advanced as "lack of work".

If in 2004 there were four names that succeeded in sitting, then in the period 2009-2014 the number of Chinese ethnic in North Sumatra who succeeded in becoming representatives of the people increased more than three times, namely 14 people. A truly unexpected amount.

In the Medan DPRD, surprisingly Chinese ethnic managed to put four of their people as representatives of the people, of which two of them were women. They are Hasyim (PDIP), Ahie (Democrat), Lily Tan and Janlie (PIB). In the North Sumatra DPRD there is Brilian Moktar (PDIP), Ramli Lie (Golkar) and Sonny Firdaus (PIB). Then in the Binjai DPRD Peterus (PDS) was elected, in the Tanjung Balai DPRD there is a Hakim Tjoa (PDIP), T Johnson (Golkar) in Asahan DPRD, Rudy Wu (Demokrat) in Siantar DPRD, Yanto (Golkar) in Gunung Sitoli DPRD, Budi (Gerindra) in DPRD Serdang Bedagai, and Effendy (Golkar) in South Nias DPRD.

The success of ethnic Chinese placing 14 of his representatives in this regional DPRD became the warmest topic among the Medan Chinese at that time. The excitement and pride are expressed by these minorities through congratulations that adorn the newspaper for days. Chinese community associations such as the INTI (Indonesia Tionghoa [Indonesian Chinese]) and PSMTI (Paguyuban Sosial Marga Tionghoa Indonesia [Indonesian Chinese Surname Social Association]) in this area also put up a large size congratulations advertisement.

Then what about Sofyan Tan? Apparently, this father of three children did not participate in the frenetic 2009 election to "save energy". Secretly he was serious about preparing to advance in the 2010 Medan Election.

In the process of nominating, Sofyan Tan had to compete again with Indra Wahidin, who was said to be urged by various groups to come forward. Both of these figures have their respective plus points. As an educational figure as well as social activist, Sofyan Tan is not only known in the Chinese ethnic society, but also among other ethnic groups. While Indra Wahidin as the chairman of North Sumatra's INTI is known to have good relations with senior Chinese figures in Medan and Jakarta. He also has a close relationship with China. If he was elected as Mayor, it is hoped that investment from the land of Panda will flow profusely to this area.

Just like when the nomination as a member of the DPD, this time there were also many Medan Chinese figures who suggested that the two discussed that only one of them advanced to increase the chances of winning. But both of them remain with their determination to move forward, in the name of their desire to serve and build Medan City. In fact, if only one candidate appeared, the Medan Chinese ethnic vote which is estimated to reach more than 15% can make a very big contribution to achieve victory. This is because the number of candidates who will advance competing in the elections reaches 10 pairs, both from the independent and political parties. If a candidate from the Medan Chinese ethnic, whether as the mayor or representative, finds the right partner, then the chance to win will be very large. Even win in one round.

Separated political deals were carried out by the two candidates. Sofyan Tan as the treasurer of the North Sumatra PDIP DPD intensely conducts political communication with a number of prospective mayor candidates. Likewise with Indra Wahidin who registered as a candidate for mayor to the PDS and the Medan United Party Coalition consisting of PIB, PPRN, PKDI and the Labor Party. In the initial process, both Sofyan Tan and Indra Wahidin did only want to advance as a candidate for deputy mayor.

In terms of addressing the election of the Mayor/ Deputy Mayor of Medan, Medan Chinese people themselves were divided into two groups. The first is those who are apathetic by saying ethnic Chinese do not need to advance because it is impossible to win. But more are those who want their people to move forward. In this group most of them want their candidates to advance as candidates for deputy mayor, with the reason that ethnic Chinese must "know themselves". Conversely, there are also those who are confident that it's time  for ethnic Chinese to appear as the number one person to improve the life of Medan City which is considered chaotic.

The Medan Chinese ethnic as the third largest ethnic group in Medan is indeed like a beautiful girl who is glimpsed by many candidates. But political games produce unexpected anticlimaxes. Indra Wahidin decided not to progress because of the obscurity of the "boat" at the last moment and did not get a partner who was considered appropriate. Since the beginning Indra Wahidin has indeed stated his determination not to carelessly choose a partner and only be willing to advance if his companion is a bureaucrat.

Meanwhile, Sofyan Tan was supported by the PDIP-PDS coalition, by cooperating with the former Medan KPU Chair Nelly Armayanti whose name had never appeared in the elections. Not half-hearted, Sofyan Tan appeared as a candidate for mayor.

The problem is that although known as a community that holds traditional values strongly, the Medan Chinese ethnic is not a solid and compact group. They have different political views and are even conflicting. The advance of Sofyan Tan also reaped controversy, especially from supporters of Indra Wahidin and those who disliked him. The one who fully supported the doctor to move forward was quite a lot, but not a few who voiced donations and chose to become a white group, aka abstentions. Election data in a number of sub-districts show that Sofyan Tan actually gained many votes from other ethnic groups. This is because Sofyan Tan who is a SME (Small and Medium Enterprise) activist so far has come in contact with the lower layers.

Although not winning, history records how Sofyan Tan managed to carve gold ink. In the election on May 12, 2010, out of the 10 Medan mayor candidates, Sofyan Tan who was paired with Nelly Armayanti, the former Chairwoman of the Medan KPU (Komisi Pemilihan Umum [Election Commission]), surprisingly won 20.72% of the votes, only slightly under the pair Rahudman Harahap-Eldin Dzumi who won 22.20% of the votes. The two couples also advanced to the second round.

In the second round battle that was very hot and enlivened by racial issues, Sofyan Tan had to recognize the superiority of Rahudman-Eldin who won 65.88% of the votes. Sofyan, who was considered by many people to lose honors with 34.12% of votes, even won significant votes not only in the pockets of ethnic Chinese settlements, but also in some areas dominated by non-Chinese ethnic groups.

The success of the 2009 election and Sofyan Tan's achievements in the 2010 Medan Mayor Election has increasingly caused political euphoria in Chinese. In the 2014 election, the number of ethnic Chinese of this region who advanced as candidates for people's representatives were even more. This actually became a kind of boomerang because in many cities and areas, the Medan Chinese votes became divided.

Some representatives of Chinese descent, including two female members of Medan, Lily Tan and Janlie were no longer elected in the 2009-2014 period. In Binjai during the period 2004-2009 and 2009-2014, there were always representatives from the Chinese ethnicity,  there was nobody at all in the 2014 election. The reason, the interest to become a candidate from the Chinese community is too big. There are 6 legislative candidates from the Chinese ethnicity in Binjai City and they must compete among themselves to win the votes. Consequently, the enough votes of the Chinese ethnic to deliver two candidates to be elected was split and did not give any results. During the nomination process, a number of Chinese figures in Rambutan City had actually directed them so that only 2 people advanced, but this effort was unsuccessful.

After all, some people from ethnic Chinese in this area managed to become representatives of the people. Brillian Moktar (PDIP) and Sonny Firdaus (Gerindra) managed to survive and sit as members of the North Sumatra DPRD. Hasyim (PDIP) also remains in the Medan DPRD. And this year Sofyan Tan, whose popularity increased sharply after the election for Mayor of Medan, won significant votes and became the only Medan Chinese sitting in the Indonesian Parliament. Remarkably, Sofyan Tan, Hasyim and Brilian Moktar became candidates who won the most votes in their respective electoral districts.

Actually, besides Sofyan Tan, there are other Medan Chinese who participated in the candidates and joined the competition in the North Sumatra 1 electoral district which was very tight with the Nasdem Party flag, namely Iskandar ST. Supported by promotions through large billboards, the former journalist who is now a successful businessman failed to get a ticket to Senayan.

The world of politics in Medan City, especially among ethnic Chinese, is frenetic again in 2015. Eddie Kusuma, a Medan citizen who has long lived in Jakarta and once nominated himself as a candidate accompanying the candidate for Mayor of Medan Ramadhan Pohan.

The advance of Eddie Kusuma was really not forecasted by the Medan Chinese. During this time the names that are circulating and are considered to have the potential to advance to represent ethnic Chinese are Hasyim, Brilian Moktar and Sofyan Tan. There was news that PDIP, which was supporting Sofyan Tan in the past, would re-appoint an ethnic Chinese to compete in Medan. A number of billboards that put on the face of Medan DPRD member Hasyim appear to be installed in several locations.

What happened later was PDIP nominating Achyar in pairs with incumbent Dzumi Eldin. While Eddie Kusuma, with the blessing of the Chairman of the Gerindra Party Prabowo Subianto, went down to his hometown. This means that Eddie Kusuma must be at odds with Hasyim, Brilian Moktar and Sofyan Tan who are representatives of the people from PDIP and have a considerable influence in Medan.

Although less well known by Medan Chinese, especially among the younger generation, Eddie Kusuma appeared confidently during the nomination process and stated his belief to win. He believes his experience as a teacher and school principal at the Tri Bukit College (WR Supratman) Medan can be a provision to win votes among his people. To the local media, Eddie said many ethnic Chinese aged 40-50 years were former students. And, of course, ethnic sentiment is expected to make more than 15 percent of the votes of ethnic Chinese flowing to him (data from BPS based on the 2000 Population Census number of ethnic Chinese in Medan is only 10.65%).

But, ethnic Chinese in Medan City is a dynamic society and not easily directed. The pros and cons of them about Eddie's nomination were inevitable. Especially from the PDIP camp led by Hasyim cs, the support of ethnic Chinese was actually directed to Dzumi Eldin-Achyar according to party instructions. And as a usual competition, ethnic Chinese who do not support Eddie actually exhale negative news about the 2006 Lemhanas alumni. At that time, Medan Chinese were divided into three parts: those who supported Eddie Kusuma, those who supported Eldin-Achyar, as well as those who were apathetic or did not care about the frenetic candidacy.

The diversification of ethnic Chinese votes, plus the lack of support for former DPR member Ramadhan Pohan, made this couple only won 28.28 percent of the votes in the election which took place on December 9, far below Dzumi Eldin-Achyar who collected 71.72% of the votes.

As a result Eddie Kusuma became the second Medan Chinese after Sofyan Tan who failed to become the regional head. Eddie Kusuma's defeat actually can indeed be predicted early. In addition to the lack of Eddie's fame because it has been domiciled for decades in Jakarta, high dynamics from the Medan Chinese ethnicity became one of the stumbling blocks. Moreover, the Medan Pilkada battle in 2015 was only followed by 2 candidates, so that to be able to win a candidate requires a vote of more than 50 percent and is not enough to only be supported by one or two ethnicities.

Until now, the longing of some ethnic Chinese so that their ethnic group lead Medan City seems to have to be buried first. However, the political passion is now more fertile in the hearts of many of them. With the characteristics of Medan Chinese that is "struggling", brave and strong-willed, we can be sure that in the coming political existence in North Sumatra, it will be more dynamic as the "slanted eyes politician". Moreover, ethnic Chinese in North Sumatra are increasingly aware of one thing, namely their community has enough votes to deliver their "brothers" to sit in the legislature, especially in certain regions and cities. More than that, the majority of ethnic Chinese are traders who have employees from various ethnicities and their families, who can be used to boost the number of votes.

Failure in the Medan Pilkada in 2010 and 2015 was also a valuable lesson. Among ethnic Chinese there is belief that if they become representatives of the people or regional heads, they can do more and even make differences in the midst of the vague political atmosphere of the country.

With such encouragement now more and more Medan Chinese are seated as the core administrators in political parties. Besides Sofyan Tan, Brilian Moktar and Hasyim in PDIP and Sonny Firdaus in Gerindra, currently there is Iskandar ST sitting as DPW Secretary of the North Sumatra NasDem Party and Hadi Surachman as DPW Deputy Treasurer of the North Sumatra Perindo Party. At the DPC level in the district and city, there are also a number of ethnic Chinese names sitting as administrators of several parties.

During the North Sumatra Pilkada with two candidate pairs Edy Rahmayadi-Musa Rajekshah and Djarot Saiful Hidayat-Sihar Sitorus, Medan Chinese ethnic groups were also active in various supporting communities of the two candidates. They are not only passive by just following the elections. The support from them is not directed to one candidate, but is divided almost evenly to the two existing candidates.

At the 2019 Democratic celebration, at least dozens of Medan Chinese people registered themselves as candidates from various political parties, not including from other regions in North Sumatra. This explains, whatever happens, their interest in the political world, especially from the younger generation, will never recede.

Photo by Halim Kosasi on Unsplash


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