Beautiful and smart, that is the first impression when you meet Boki Ratu Nita Budhi Susanti, which means ‘Her Majesty the Queen.’ There are still numerous traditional monarchies in Indonesia, but only a few have modernized and now participate in the political system. Boki is not only the queen of Ternate in North Maluku, she was also elected to the House of Representatives as a Democrat. Today, she tells us what it’s like being a queen in politics, her current stands on issues and what Jakarta means to her.
Let’s start with the obvious. How did you become a queen?
Well, I am the wife of the 48th sultan of Ternate. I was originally from Java and was crowned sultana, or queen, of Ternate in 2000.
How do you cope with the cultural differences between Java and North Maluku?
I experienced culture shock when I first moved to Ternate because it was so different. However, thank God, I was able to adjust quickly and soon felt at home in North Maluku. I’m Javanese, and traditionally we are raised more gently and to be soft spoken. But I was brought up under two cultures, Javanese and European, because my grandfather had Dutch and French heritage. So this affected the way that I think.
There are many sultanates in Indonesia. Do they still have any power?
Many of the other kingdoms no longer have any real power primarily because they are not willing to change with the times. The only way to survive is to use politics to make your voice heard. Without that it’s difficult to maintain both a monarchy and democracy.
Has politics always been your passion?
At first, I was just a housewife, but then the sultan told me that I had the ability to be in politics. It was tough for me because I’m not originally from North Maluku, but the sultan believed in me. I wasn’t in favor at first, but then I asked him a question: Why us? Why do we have to be in politics? Shouldn’t a sultanate be neutral and act like an umbrella to protect its people? But the sultan said that our role was to maintain harmony, that we had to participate in politics so we could be part of the central government system. So I took it upon myself to become a part of it to influence our traditional values.
Being a queen is already an honor, so why lower yourself to become part of the government?
In politics, one plus one doesn’t equal two. I had to become part of it to play a role in the decision-making process. That way, I can try and make one plus one almost equal two.
How long have you been in politics?
First, I spent five years on the Regional Representatives Council [DPD] and then I became a member of the House of Representatives [DPR] two years ago.
Do you agree that the House needs a new Rp 1 trillion building?
I agree that we should build a new DPR/MPR building to improve the performance of the top state institutions. Imagine the elevator suddenly stopping while there are House members inside? How can we work if we have to constantly think about safety? The current building is not able to accommodate members anymore.
What changes have you made since you came to office?
I’m not going to talk about changes for the nation, but for my people I have made the palace more accessible, more transparent. The palace has to act like parents toward the people, we are not their masters. I have also built a mosque for the women, improved banking and the economy in Ternate, and I have I established a center to act as a base for all the women’s organizations in North Maluku.
What’s so great about Ternate?
When I’m in Ternate, I love being around my people. Another great thing about Ternate is the spices. They are the main commodity and made us famous hundreds of years ago. In fact, Columbus was originally looking for Ternate, one of the Spice Islands, when he found America. America wouldn’t exist if it hadn’t been for Ternate [laughs].
What’s so great about Jakarta?
I like being here because my voice can be heard, in contrast to when I’m sitting in the palace. In Jakarta, I can enjoy the music scene, jazz and blues. There’s also the malls, which are so convenient. Everything you need in one place.
You’re obviously very busy, so how do you manage your time?
No one’s perfect, but I try to manage it the best I can. I have to be able to know when it’s time to be the queen, mother, sister or friend. I really enjoy being with my children here in Jakarta. I teach them how to be independent; but I also play video games with my little one, pick dresses for my teenage daughter and do her makeup, and just enjoy being a mother.
What else do you like to do besides being a queen, mother and DPR member?
I like to have fun and relax too; just because I’m a queen doesn’t mean I have to be uptight. I pick up my kids from school, go shopping at the mall, I wear jeans and I hang out with college students. I enjoy designing my own clothes, I choreograph traditional dances and I also teach politics and communication. I’m quite an artistic person; I believe there’s art in everything you do.
What about the future?
In the near future, I’m planning to run for governor.
Boki was talking to Iwan Putuhena
Original interview was published in The Jakarta Globe
Pictures by Iwan Putuhena & Yanti Junani