Indonesia: EDITORIAL: The test of our democracy

EDITORIAL: The test of our democracy

  • EDITORIALThe Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Fri, May 12, 2017

EDITORIAL: The test of our democracyInactive Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama attends the final hearing of his blasphemy trial at the North Jakarta District Court on Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The panel of judges declare him guilty for blasph (Antara/Sigid Kurniawan)


The blasphemy trial and conviction of the now non-active Jakarta governor, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, have raised more worries for Indonesia’s minorities and the majority of moderate Muslims. On the heels of the divisive Jakarta election, which Ahok lost, the confidence of Islamists has risen, although many of their aspirations and actions were alien and hostile to fellow Muslims.

Therefore, it is with mixed feelings that Indonesians greet the government’s plan to disband the Hizbut Thahrir Indonesia (HTI), the local branch of a global Islamic khilafah (caliphate movement) long banned in other countries. Compared to those of vigilante groups, HTI members are not known as rabble-rousers, yet their aspirations for a global caliphate, not unlike that of the Islamic State (IS) movement, contradicts the republic’s basic principles. The HTI has also joined the anti-Ahok cause with its members joining rallies to demand his imprisonment and carrying banners promoting the khilafah.

Many worried members of the public then sent flower boards to the National Police and Indonesian Military headquarters, giving them a subtle message that the republic should not be replaced with sharia-inspired laws.

On Monday, Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Wiranto suddenly said the government was moving to ban the HTI, a plan that was swiftly challenged. Former law minister Yusril Isra Mahendra reminded the government that since the HTI is a legal organization, its dissolution must follow procedures in the law on mass organizations; we therefore hail the government’s plan to go to court on the issue.

Other groups are distancing themselves from the HTI. The Islam Defenders Front (FPI) rushed to claim it was “different” from the HTI, maintaining that the FPI was based on Pancasila, even though its leader Rizieq Shihab has reportedly insulted the state ideology.

The revised law on mass organizations is a legacy of the New Order regime and has been used to justify the banning of several organizations. with unclear reasons. Today’s authorities show similar inconsistency. Wiranto said the HTI only caused tension, but what about other groups that have long created public disturbances? What these groups have done involving violence and hate speech could have been enough reason for the government to give warnings and, if necessary, decide on their dissolution.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo may be sending a warning to vocal Islamist groups ahead of his 2019 reelection bid, starting with the HTI. But hundreds of thousands of HTI members would simply go underground.

Indonesia needs a democracy that would allow for a pluralism of identities and beliefs, including that of minorities like Shiites and Ahmadis, which the HTI want to see banned. It is tempting to simply ban anyone or any organization campaigning on ideas that contradict our basic principles, ideas like the creation of an Islamic state. However, we would be repeating the mistakes of the past authoritarian regime if we crush legitimate organizations simply because they are not part of the establishment.


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