The Jakarta Post
The Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) has promised to pass a bill to protect Muslim clerics, religious figures and religious symbols as part of its bid to retain seats in the House of Representatives after the 2019 general election.
“For the sake of maintaining the honor and nobility of ulema, religious leaders and religious symbols, and in order to maintain the integrity and harmony of inter-religious life, the PKS promises to fight for the protection bill in the upcoming 2019-2024 period,” PKS chairman Sohibul Iman told a press conference last week.
Sohibul cited what he claimed to was an increase in “persecution against ulema” as one of the reasons behind their plan.
“Ulema and religious figures are very vulnerable to threats – whether physical, non-physical or criminalization by law enforcement authorities – because of their preaching,” he said, citing the rejection of popular preacher Abdul Somad in Bali and Semarang, as well as the “criminalization” of Islam Defenders Front (FPI) leader Rizieq Shihab.
Sohibul also mentioned the burning of a flag bearing the Islamic creed tauhid in Garut last year as an example of why the bill was needed.
The PKS’ proposal has been sharply criticized by political parties in the coalition supporting President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo for being redundant and painting a misleading picture of the treatment of ulema in the country.
“Every faction at the House has the right to propose any law, but every law needs to follow certain principles such as clarity of purpose and clear formulation,” National Awakening Party (PKB) lawmaker Lukman Edy told The Jakarta Post recently.
“If the purpose of the bill is just to further twist existing hoaxes, it certainly does not fulfill the principles of formulating a law. The criminalization of ulema is a hoax that is being spread by the PKS.”
Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) lawmaker Eva Sundari feared the bill would only justify discriminatory practices against others.
“The bill is not necessary because everyone is guaranteed equal treatment under the law no matter what their position is,” she said. “We shouldn’t create laws that discriminate by giving privilege based on SARA [tribal affiliations, religion, race and societal groups].”
She added that everyone, including ulema, would be “fine” as long as they did not commit criminal acts “such as hate speech and treason”.
The Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI), which has been vocal in its opposition to policies on religion-based regional bylaws and polygamy, said the bill was disingenuous.
“The PKS deliberately came up with the bill to frame themselves as defenders of ulema, while those who disagree with the bill will be seen as being in favor of ulema criminalization,” PSI legislative hopeful Dara Nasution said. “This is not the case, as every Indonesian citizen has the same standing before the law.”
Even the PKS’ long-time ally in the Gerindra Party seems reluctant about supporting the bill.
The Gerindra executive and deputy chairman of House Commission VII overseeing social and religious affairs, Sodik Mujahid, said the PKS had to formulate clear criteria before initiating the bill.
“We have to have a detailed definition of what the term ‘protection’ means and specific criteria that determines which figures are eligible for protection,” Sodik said. “It also has to be clear what the protection is for. Is it protection from criminalization or politicization?”
The PKS previously issued two other official campaign pledges: to abolish the tax on motor vehicles and to remove expiry dates from driver's licenses in an effort to boost its electability in the 2019 legislative race.
According to the 2017 General Elections Law, parties need to obtain at least 4 percent of the vote nationwide to be eligible for seats in the House. Recent polls have put the PKS’ electability in the 3 to 5 percent range. (ipa)