Political pragmatism by major political parties, that have long pandered to majority Sunni voters, has prevented the parties from protecting the rights of minority Muslim groups such as the Ahmadiyah and Shia.
Although nine political parties in the House of Representatives have provisions in their statutes to protect the rights of minority groups, some of them, particularly the Islamic-based National Awakening Party (PKB), the United Development Party (PPP) and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), have openly supported the Religious Affairs Ministry’s decision to maintain regulations deemed discriminatory against minorities groups, including the 2008 Joint Ministerial Decree that bans Ahmadis from practicing their faith over fears of blasphemy.
For Islamic parties, religious freedom is acceptable as long as it does not contradict the basic tenets of Islam or aqidah principles, which according to them, have been breached by Ahmadis and Shiites in Indonesia.
“This is why we believe that there is no other solution for them [Ahmadis and Shiites] but to repent and submit themselves to true Islam,” Hasrul Azwar, leader of the PPP faction at the House, told The Jakarta Post on Monday.
Religious Affairs Minister Sur-yadharma Ali, who is also chairman of the PPP, has repeatedly said that Ahmadis and Shiites have “deviated” from the true path of Islam and that they had brought discrimination upon themselves on account of their deviant teachings.
Both the PKS and the PKB, whose politicians applauded Suryadharma’s ongoing attempts to engage in dialogue with the Sampang Shiites in East Java, said that conversion to the “true path” of Islam was the only solution to the stand-off.
“We do uphold the rights to worship the faith. However, we must not forget that we have rules in this country, including the joint ministerial regulation, which must apply to every single citizen,” PKS lawmaker Ledia Hanifa told the Post.
Ledia, who is also the deputy chairman of House Commission VIII overseeing religion, added that all laws and regulations had clearly identified only six religions recognized by the state.
“The violation of any of these rules is the cause of religious conflicts in the country,” she emphasized.
Nationalist political parties, including the ruling Democratic Party, the Golkar Party and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) claimed that they had tried to convince Suryadharma to change his policies on minority groups, but their calls had fallen on deaf ears.
The PDI-P recently issued a statement asking President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to disengage Suryadharma from the current reconciliation process involving Shiites from Sampang, Madura, East Java.
“The President must appoint somebody else to mediate the conflicting groups [in Sampang] because he [Suryadharma] is not the right person in charge of the project. It is obvious he favors the majority Sunni groups,” PDI-P senior lawmaker Eva Kusuma Sundari said.
Golkar said political expediency, sometimes at the local level, had hobbled its attempt to protect minority groups.
Golkar deputy secretary-general Nurul Arifin, for example, said that the party did order all of its members to promote pluralism but that politicians had often disregarded the directive, bowing to pressure from local majority groups.
“We are strongly against such practice. We have reprimanded those who have openly supported discriminative bylaws. However, this kind of practice is very difficult to monitor,” Nurul said.