Indonesia: "Anti-Pornography" bill passed

Malaysian Insider / New Straits Times
Activists and concerned citizens across Indonesia are denouncing a new Anti-Pornography law passed in October 2008, which they feel will endanger Indonesian unity as well as women's rights and sexual rights.
"The majority Golkar party may have been guilty of many things, but religious intolerance was not one of them. For three decades as the political machine of former President Suharto, it maintained a policy of separating mosque from state in the interests of national unity. Now its secularist credentials are under scrutiny after it bowed to political expediency and supported a controversial new anti-pornography law which threatens to divide Indonesian society if it is zealously enforced.
With next April's legislative elections already casting a long shadow, Vice-President Jusuf Kalla, who is also the Golkar chairman, and parliamentary leader Priyo Budi Santoso decided as far back as last year to get behind the measure.

It was never the subject of internal debate, but according to veteran legislator Marzuki Darusman, the stated reason was to “give the impression we weren't working at cross-purposes with Islamic voters”. It is not a reason he and others are happy about.

“There is no doubt this is mismanagement of party policy,” he said, tracing the history back to the start of Kalla's chairmanship in late 2004. “There has been a marked decline in and a lack of attention to the ideological line of the party, which is supposed to be nationalist and secular.

“It's a real setback for principles and best practices,” he added. “Even during the New Order, there was a clear separation between religion and politics. That is now blurring by the day.”

Darusman said that while there was a significant number of secularist Golkar lawmakers who opposed the draft Bill, it would have been difficult for them to register their views “without creating a misunderstanding within the party”.

Well-intentioned supporters of the new legislation have the impression it is only about protecting women and children from the evils of pornography — something that is already dealt with in the country's comprehensive Criminal Code.

But there are serious contradictions between the title of the law and its substance, with pornography defined broadly as anything “which may incite obscenity, sexual exploitation and/or violate the moral ethics of the community”.

Such a loose definition would invite only exploitation by religious zealots. A section of the legislation allowing for “public participation” would seem to offer zealots an open invitation to take matters into their own hands.

After initially insisting the law was not directed at imposing restrictions on dress and behaviour, the legislative committee removed provisions that would have prevented tourists from wearing bikinis on the country's beaches. Even so, Bali governor and former police chief Made Mangku Pastika, who headed the 2002 terrorist bomb investigation, has made it clear the provincial administration plans to mount a legal challenge to the law.

It is difficult to understand why the legislation was rushed through at all given other more pressing Bills languishing in the House, not to mention the opposition from wide sections of society, including outright rejection by Bali, Papua and North Sulawesi.

But even more puzzling is the way a seemingly irrational fear of Muslim voters drove Golkar and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's own Democrat Party to secure its passage. Ironically, it could well prove to be a political miscalculation.

The same fear was exhibited in Golkar's support for a slew of syariah-based by-laws across the country that may now be under threat following a change in leadership at the Constitutional Court.

Suharto did allow a Muslim resurgence in the final decade of his rule, led by the officially sanctioned Indonesian Association of Muslim Intellectuals, as a way of keeping the military off-balance. While he was careful to ensure the resurgence did not lead to social tensions, his move did foster the emergence of a green faction within the ruling party whose influence has strengthened in concert with the Islamic revival.

Yudhoyono appears to believe that failing to support Islamic-branded issues will be held against him. He has done little to stop the persecution of the Ahmadiyah sect and has often demonstrated a weak response to other radical excesses.

Democrat Balkan Kaplale, who headed the committee deliberating the Bill, is a Maluku-born educator representing a northeast Java constituency populated by conservative Madurese voters.

The opposition Indonesian Democrat Party-Struggle (PDI-P) and the minority, Christian-based Prosperous Peace Party walked out of the Oct 30 parliamentary plenum in protest, allowing the law to pass without even the formality of a vote. Many other legislators simply stayed away.

The strongest backing for the law came from the Islamic-based Prosperous Justice Party (PKS). Only days before the law passed, deputy party leader Hilman Rosyad Syihab offered encouragement to a Muslim cleric who had controversially married a 12-year-old girl.

Taken together, the two issues may have given pause to mainstream voters, who up to now at least have been attracted to PKS because of its platform of good governance and an emphasis on education and political reforms.

The PKS' future depends on its centrist credentials. It won 7.3 per cent of the vote in the 2004 elections, and is ambitiously aiming for 20 per cent next year — about five percentage points more than most analysts feel it can realistically attain. Any hint that it has a hidden agenda, beyond using syariah as a moral compass, will only doom it to a peripheral role in Indonesian politics.

Voters have demonstrated time and again that while Islam may be a major influence in their lives, it will not be at the price of a creeping process of Arabisation that robs them of their social freedoms.

16 November 2008

Source: The Malaysian Insider