, The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Fri, 06/23/2006 3:39 PM | Opinion
Benny Subianto, Jakarta
Indonesia is a secular state that fully respects and protects the existing religions and freedom of religion. As a secular state, it strictly separates state authority from religious authority.
No religion, even one embraced by the majority, is considered the state religion. This suggests Indonesia is a pluralistic nation-state that rejects the idea of state-religion unity (al din wa al daulah).
Prior to the birth of the Republic, during a series of preparatory meetings for Indonesian independence in 1945, some Muslim leaders tried to impose Islam as the state religion and oblige all Muslims to practice sharia. The founding fathers eventually decided to pick Pancasila, which recognizes pluralism, as the state ideology.
Similar efforts were made by Muslim politicians during the Konstituante (People's Assembly) sessions in 1956 to debate a new constitution. Sessions deadlocked on the question of whether Islam or Pancasila should be the guiding philosophy of the nation.
Under the authoritarian New Order, President Soeharto disallowed Islam as a political ideology. His fall in 1998, followed by the restoration of political and civil liberty, triggered the rise of identity politics in the Indonesian political arena. Identity -- such as religion, ethnicity, or cultural attributes -- has become a powerful entity in everyday politics.
While under the New Order Islam was an identity that resisted the uniformity of Pancasila, the end of the regime provided the political room for Islamic-based parties and mass organizations to demand the formalization of sharia. The People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) foiled the attempt in its annual session in 2000.
The refusal of formalize sharia is very much understandable. Most MPR lawmakers believe the state should not interfere in the religious and moral domains and that the separation between state and religious authorities must be upheld in order to prevent the abuse of religious authority by the state or the other way around.
History has shown that religious authority is often abused and misinterpreted by state authorities for the sake of the latter's interests -- one of the most obvious examples being the misuse of the power of the Catholic Church in Europe in the Middle Ages.
In addition, the groups and political parties at the MPR who supported the implementation of sharia were in the minority. The United Development Party and the Crescent and Star Party, which won between them 13.66 percent of the vote in the 1999 elections, were the only parties that vigorously fought for sharia's adoption.
The advocates of sharia, however, have been quite successful in convincing the public that sharia will be a panacea for all of Indonesia's social and economic problems.
Having failed to promote sharia in the Constitution, its proponents found another way, through the euphoria of regional autonomy. Currently three provinces and 22 regencies and municipalities have adopted formal bylaws on various issues concerning sharia. These include laws requiring civil servants to be able to read the Koran and abide by a Muslim dress-code on Fridays, as well as a public obligation to pay alms, the eradication of prostitution and the prohibition of alcohol.
The legislation process of the sharia-derived bylaws seemed to be democratic in terms of procedure, since the bylaws were drafted by the executive (governor, mayor, or regent) and then approved by the legislative council.
The democratic process is necessary, but it is not sufficient if the substance of the law is undemocratic. Sharia-derived bylaws are not democratic, simply because they go against higher laws and may cause national disintegration. The legislation process of the bylaws is also not ultimately legitimate, as the 2004 Law on Regional Administration states that the central government controls issues concerning international relations, defense, the judiciary, and monetary, fiscal and religious affairs.
The tendency among politicians to stress the importance of procedure rather than substance of democracy is quite alarming.
Indeed, both substance and procedure cannot be underestimated in the course of strengthening democracy in Indonesia. A substantially noble bill should not be enforced through an undemocratic process. Likewise, a democratic procedure cannot justify a substantially undemocratic bill. Just imagine if 51 percent of the lawmakers wanted to restore the New Order authoritarian regime. It might be procedurally democratic, but it is substantially undemocratic at all.
Apparently, the advocates of sharia-derived bylaws do not realize that democracy adheres the principle of separation between the public and private domains. This implies that the state has no right to control whether an individual practices proper moral and religious conduct, as long as she or he does not offend others. Morality police do not exist in modern democratic societies.
Concerned by the creeping Islamization in the legislation of sharia-driven bylaws, 56 l egislators from various parties such as PDI-P, Golkar, PKB, PPP, and PDS, petitioned the President, asking him to revoke the bylaws. The petition's signatories argued the implementation of such bylaws contravened the 1945 Constitution and Pancasila and discriminated against women and non-Muslims.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has repeatedly voiced his commitment to the separation between religious and state authorities, and underlined that Indonesia is not based on any religion.
Such sharia-driven bylaws can be revoked through a presidential decree. Annulling the sharia-derived bylaws would be an unpopular political decision. However, the President is expected to take prompt, firm and decisive political action to address such bylaws.
Following the demise of the New Order, Indonesia was dubbed the world's third largest democracy and we were proud of it. It will be a great irony if the nation upholds democracy only in the procedural sense. Democracy is not a perfect system; it is only the best of the imperfect ones. Nonetheless, a procedural democracy is deficient.
The writer is a Jakarta-based researcher. He does consulting work on the promotion of democracy in Indonesia.