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Indonesia Hardliners Celebrate Alcohol Bylaws Review

  • Kate Lamb

A steam roller machine destroys hundreds of alcohol drinks, pornographic and pirated video DVDs in a Jakarta police station, July 8, 2013.

A steam roller machine destroys hundreds of alcohol drinks, pornographic and pirated video DVDs in a Jakarta police station, July 8, 2013.

As Indonesian Muslims observe the first day of the holy fasting month of Ramadan this Wednesday, Islamic hardliners are celebrating a religious win in court. They hope a recent victory at the Supreme Court will help their annual quest to curb alcohol consumption altogether.

On the eve of Ramadan, the Supreme Court sided with a hardline Islamic group, granting a judicial review of alcohol bylaws.

Since last year the Islamic Defender’s Front, or FPI, has pushed for the abolishment of a presidential decree that prevented local administrations from banning the sale of alcohol.

The win means local governments can now arbitrarily prohibit the sale and distribution of alcohol in their areas.

FPI spokesperson Munarman said his organization applauds the decision. “It is a good decision, because in our view the judge of the Supreme Court considered the social impact and the health impacts [of alcohol consumption],” Munarman explained.

More than 22 local governments had issued bylaws that were previously annulled by the presidential decree.

Now, on the back of the Supreme Court decision, the Indonesian parliament has agreed to consider a draft bill that calls for even stricter regulations.

Proposed by the Muslim-based United Development Party, the original draft of the bill called for a complete ban on the sale of all alcohol beverages nationwide.

It has since been watered down, but political analyst Todd Elliot says that while some lawmakers have been known to jump on the ‘morality bandwagon,’ (efforts to legislate moral or religious viewpoints) the bill is unlikely to be passed.

“I think it doesn’t have a good chance of being ratified considering that the majority of the seats in the House [parliament] are held by nationalist parties like the Democrats and Golkar and PDI-P, who you would think would support not banning or further putting restrictions on alcohol sales," stated Todd. "The Muslim-based parties, especially the conservative ones hold a very small minority of seats in the house and I don’t think they have enough influence to have the bill passed.”

During Ramadan - when bars in the capital discreetly serve booze in teacups - the FPI has become known for its controversial and sometimes violent raids of businesses that sell alcohol.

Elliot said the Supreme Court decision signals a huge victory for the FPI over the government, awarding them more credibility than their characteristic vigilantism.

“Despite the FPI’s continuing insistence on using intimidation and violence to erode liberties and rights, the group has now shown that it can be equally, if not more influential through legitimate means," said Todd. "I think they scored a lot more through challenging the regulations through legal means than they ever did through vandalizing stores.”

The draft bill is among 70 prioritized bills that will be deliberated this year.