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German-Born Woman Runs for Indonesian Parliament

A German-born woman is running for parliament in Indonesia. Petra Odebrecht has lived in Indonesia for 20 years and wants to represent the resort island of Bali.

People with body paint at a political rally

Indonesians are gearing up for the next presidential election

The 42-year-old, blue-eyed blond from Hamburg called the world's third-largest democracy "a work in progress."

When Odebrecht recently visited a factory, workers asked her for money, the candidate told AFP while sitting in a Euro-Asian restaurant overlooking Bali's famous beaches.

The women wanted to know what Odebrecht would give them if she is elected.

"It always goes back to the money. It makes me sad," she told AFP.

But her own candidacy should give people reason to hope that Indonesia is changing.

"I am the first bulé [white foreigner] joining politics in Indonesia. This proves that the democratisation process is ongoing, and that everybody can be a candidate as long as he or she has the will to do something," Odebrecht was quoted as saying in the South China Morning Post.

Odebrecht, a member of the Democratic Renewal Party, is the first German-born candidate to run in Indonesia. She decided to enter the policial arena out of an interest in making a contribution to her adopted country, an archipelago in Southeast Asia with 234 million people, mainly Muslims.

Equal pay a campaign issue

Map of Bali

Bali is usually thought of as a tourist island

The April 9 general elections are only Indonesia's third since the fall of the Suharto dictatorship in 1998.

"Indonesia is my country. I'm becoming aware that I cannot just sit back, watch and keep complaining all the time because it will change nothing," Odebrecht told AFP.

She will focus on equal rights for women and cultural diversity if elected. Bali, for example, has many Hindu followers while Java is mainly Muslim.

"Balinese women work harder than the men. They... get paid half what the man gets for doing exactly and physically the same," she said.

A sense of civic duty

Odebrecht came to the country with her Indonesian husband in 1989. The couple later divorced, but she decided to stay and work as a yoga instructor and a quality controller at a French factory in Bali.

Odebrecht became an Indonesian citizen in 1992.

Jakarta city scene

The candidate wants to win a seat in the parliament

“I feel that my nationalism is no less than those who are native to Indonesia,” Odebrecht was quoted by Indonesia's VivaNews as saying at a press conference to announce her candidacy last year.

Yet Odebrecht said she's struggling to win support from people who expect candidates to buy their votes with money, T-shirts or even fried rice.

"Democracy is a new thing here, it's important to raise the awareness of the people so they speak out," she said.

She said it's important not only to get people to vote for her, but to help them understand the issues being discussed in the elections. The elections are scheduled for April.