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Reaffirming the Glue that holds Indonesia Together

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October 1st saw the celebration of Pancasila Sanctity Day, the official holiday honoring the founding ideology of the new Indonesian state – now 67 years old – as it first threw off the yoke of the Dutch and eventually the Japanese occupation. Across an archipelago of 13,000 inhabited islands consisting of many ethnicities, dialects and religions, Indonesia’s founder, Sukarno, established Pancasila as a unifying national credo.

Pancasila includes the concept of a belief in one, true God. The brand of God is purposely unspecified as a clever way of avoiding bloodshed between the overwhelmingly dominant population of Muslims, Christians and nationalists. Polytheists accepted this (Bali for instance is overwhelmingly Hindu while Buddhism remains across Java and elsewhere).

This year has marked some Muslim-on-Muslim violence directed against the minority Shi’ite population, particularly in Ambon, and against Ahmadiyyah Muslims. In response to this, the government’s minister for religious affairs suggested that non-Sunni Muslims should be called upon to convert. He resisted calls to declare Shia Islam as an Islamic heresy.

Democracy is only fifteen years old in Indonesia. The year 2014 will first see parliamentary elections and then the Presidential. It would be a tragedy if national political players were to use religion for electoral gain. In the very recent  Jakarta gubernatorial elections, supporters of the struggling incumbent called upon Muslims to vote against the ultimately successful challenger ticket, even though the putative vice-governor was neither a Muslim nor Javanese (he was an ethnic Chinese Christian).  The fact that Jakarta voters rejected these explicit calls to vote on religious and ethnic grounds gives hope that the national elections of 2014 will not be marred by sectarian voting. If that becomes true, then Pancasila seems set to remain the crucial glue that binds this nation of over 240 million souls together.

Stephen Lock is CEO of Edelman’s businesses in Indonesia (IndoPacific Edelman and Zeno Stratcom) and is Edelman’s head of practice for public affairs in South East Asia.

Above: The Indonesia Parliament in Jarkarta. Image by The Official CTBTO Photostream

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