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Mental health problems plague Indonesian election hopefuls

A man prepares ballot boxes and papers before sending them to polling stations in Jakarta/AFP

A man prepares ballot boxes and papers before sending them to polling stations in Jakarta/AFP

JAKARTA, Apr 17 – His body shaking violently, Sofyan screamed loudly as a traditional healer sought to calm the Indonesian election candidate, one of a growing number seeking treatment for mental health problems after polls last week.

“Don’t take my votes away. I have spent so much money,” he shouted, as the healer chanted softly and poured water mixed with flowers over his body.

Many of the approximately 230,000 candidates running for seats in local and national legislatures across the world’s biggest archipelago nation invested huge amounts of their own money to fund campaigns, but some are now paying an even greater price.

Some become stressed or depressed at the prospect of losing everything while others appear to have suffered more severely, such as one who reportedly went stealing his neighbours’ sandals before taking refuge up a coconut tree.

Thousands of candidates were treated for stress-related illnesses following the 2009 legislative elections, and reports in recent days suggest that the situation will be the same following the April 9 vote.

While many of those who fall ill are the losers, that is not always the case as the stress and cost of running campaigns can be enormous, whatever the final outcome.

“They have lost their money, land, houses, and one candidate even lost his wife to another man because he was too busy campaigning,” said Muhammad Muzakkin, from a traditional healing centre on main Java island, who has treated 51 candidates for stress in the past week.

Many are willing to take the risk however as the rewards from gaining office in Indonesia can be huge – a businessman will find it is easier for his company to win contracts if he is also a politician, and there is ample opportunity to get rich by accepting bribes in a country with a notoriously corrupt political culture.

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