In what seems to be a continuing theme here in Indonesian politics, the news of recent weeks has been ‘drowned’ with stories of an impending doom… No - the Super Volcano under Lake Toba isn’t blowing up (we don’t think) - rather it is the impending impact on the economy from the proposed bill to ban alcohol nationwide. It isn’t just the mini-marts under siege anymore, it may be a full on ‘bye-bye Bintang’, forever. So here we are again, finding ourselves deconstructing yet another poorly thought out and poorly justified decision by the people who run our country…
But first, the background
In January 2015, the Ministry of Trade’s legislation banned convenience stores around the nation from selling alcoholic drinks, in hope that this would curb underage locals (especially school kids) from divulging in the act of alcoholic indulgence.
It was two parties, the United Development Party (PPP) and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) who proposed the bill last year, which was enacted, and then later pulled again by Jokowi. At first, the party’s requests were not taken seriously as they were purely based on religious scripture. They then came back with the ‘underage drinking’ justification – a convenient story that killed the convenience store, at least for a while.
This year, the same parties are back, but it’s not the convenience stores they’re after, it’s the whole country. The scary thing is, it seems to be gaining traction and is controversially still being discussed. Why? Who knows, but it has certainly urged us to make this list of why the whole thing is a ridiculous idea:-
1. Keep The Doctor Away
Again, the two parties that have pushed this bill cannot justify themselves using religious scripture, even though we all know that’s the real reason. So, after a year of brainstorming and daydreaming, they’ve returned in 2016 with justification that banning alcohol is for the benefit of the nation’s health.
They’ve been quoted mentioning the ‘dozens’ of deaths caused by alcohol, as noted in the New York Times, yet the majority of deaths have occured from ‘illegal’ or unlicensed brews, like the methanol poisoning a few years back, not from legal sources. The NYTimes also states that the majority of these deaths from fake alcohol happen in regions where alcohol is restricted, banned and/or unlicensed (a la prohibition).
Now, if that really was the case and these guys cared about the health of the country, then why not focus on a substance far more common and causes far more deaths than alcohol. We are of course referring to Indonesia’s Love Affair with Tobacco… we digress.
2. But, what about the money?
When a decision is based on belief, and belief alone, other factors that are affected by the outcome are often pushed to the sideline or not considered at all. The decision-making process becomes narrow-minded and tenacious.
Alcohol has become an increasingly important part of the economy here in Indonesia. Firstly the banning of alcohol production would see the loss of 128,000 jobs, and 0.03% of GDP. This is just the start; restaurants, bars, clubs, hotels, cafés, alcohol distributors and more will suffer. Many will close down, people will lose jobs and the government will see a vast decrease in taxation revenue… this will then lead to yet another negative impact.
Without a doubt, tourism will suffer. Bali and Jakarta being the most obvious places to be hit first. The irony is that Indonesia is truly ramping up their tourism industry, with national and international ‘Wonderful Indonesia’ and ‘Pesona Indonesia’ campaigns pushing hard. Yet, at the same time, this decision would see those campaigns die in vain. The chairman of the Bali Tourism Board has said the bill would be the apocalypse of Bali’s tourism.
Whilst Bali is obviously not all about the alcohol, the creative cocktail or cool beer or glass of wine in one of Bali’s trendy spots has become part of the island’s experience. Tourists will easily make the jump over to Thailand, for example, who has always been in competition with Bali.
4. It’s positively Un-Indonesian
When Soekarno raised the Indonesian Flag on the 17th August 1945, he read the declaration of independence, in which he read out the Pancasila. The Pancasila clearly states “ketuhanan yang maha esa”, “belief in the one and only god”, which allows belief in the major '5' religions. So this bill is not inline with the very first point of the official philosophical foundation of the Indonesian state, being based on only Islamic belief. Let’s compare this to the USA declaration shall we? Imagine the government trying to pass a law that contradicts any of the points of the declaration (especially point 2!) – you’d have a riot! So why do we stand by so idly?
This is yet another example of political religiousness encroaching further into the system, with more hard-line rules that don’t represent the open and flexible ‘Islam Nusantara’ (or archipelagic Islam) that Indonesia had grown up on over the years. (Watch this video from 1955, showing the appreciation for Indonesia’s cultural and religious diversity).
5. Let me, Be me
Finally, Indonesia has developed a sound reputation around the world for being the most democratic and open country with a majority Muslim population, and it is this kind of political bullying that will cause that reputation to crumble.
By no means do we mean to criticize any religious beliefs. It’s important to respect and accept all who live by their religious regulations. But to use politics to force ideology and a way of life upon others is simply from the Dark Ages, which Indonesia has struggled slowly to climb out of – do we want to climb back into the past, where the people ‘above’ rule and regulate our choices in life? Of course not; our minds in this modern day are too open, too free and too informed to buckle to the pressures of any hardline ideology.
This bill isn’t really about alcohol. It’s about the freedom of choice: religious non-drinkers, religious drinkers, non-religious non-drinkers, non-religious drinkers – whatever the combination, the choice should be yours to make for yourself.
What do you think? Put your thoughts and comments in below.