The Indonesian-Chinese community in Tanjung Balai municipality in North Sumatra has protested against the administration’s plan to dismantle a statute of Buddha on top of the Tri Ratna Temple.
Mayor Sutrisno Hadi has ordered that the statue be removed, claiming that this was called for by public pressures.
However, many suspect his policy is permeated with political motives.
For Buddhists, the mayor’s position is symptomatic of those who seek to ignore or put aside their faith and a threat to the principle of unity in diversity.
W. Lie, from the Indonesian-Chinese community, said he was shocked to learn that the decision had been taken based on a joint agreement by officials and religious leaders, including the Buddhist community.
Lie acknowledged Buddhist representatives were involved in the joint agreement, but said their involvement was not based on their real wishes. According to Lie, temple leader Suwanto Saima was forced to sign the agreement under pressure.
”Unfortunately, we did not have the opportunity to ask who had intimidated him because he was hit by a pedicab from behind and died a week later,” Lie told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.
Lie said that despite this agreement, the Buddhist community in Tanjung Balai did not agree that the statue be taken down, two years after it was put on top of the temple.
Lie added that the attempts to remove the statue had hurt the feelings of the Buddhist community.
“We won’t remove the statue. We don’t dare because this involves our faith. If the municipality wants to remove it, they can, because we cannot fight the government,” said Lie, adding the Indonesian-Chinese community of Buddhist faith in Tanjung Balai are currently afraid of provoking trouble for opposing this.
He added the majority of Buddhists in the city opted to keep silent to avoid controversy.
North Sumatra Joint Alliance managing director Veryanto Sitohang expressed concern saying this was linked to municipal elections.
”The mayor’s son is currently vying for the city’s top position. Based on information, he is being pressured by an Islamic organization to remove the statue as a condition of their support for his son’s candidacy as mayor,” Veryanto said.
The municipal election in August featured nine pairs. Based on the results Eka Hadi Sucipto (the mayor’s son)-Afrizal Zulkarnaen and Thamrin Munthe-Rolel Harahap should have gone to the second round but for protests over the elections.
The Constitutional Court on Sept. 29 ordered a rerun in 13 sub-districts because the Eka-Afrizal pair was proven to be involved in vote buying.
The rerun in 13 sub-districts will involve all nine candidate pairs but the election commission has yet to schedule it due to the lack of funds.
When asked about this Mayor Sutrisno said the issue of removing the statute was not linked to elections.
”Removing the statue is purely reflecting public demand and has no connection with politics or the election,” Sutrisno told the Post.
Sutrisno said he had never instructed that the Buddha statue be dismantled following the joint agreement reached in August. He said every party, including the police, military and prosecutor’s office, were present when the agreement was signed.
“In the meeting, the temple caretakers said they were ready to remove the statue and move it to another place. The municipality has never intimidated them,” said Sutrisno.