Jakarta Police have questioned Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) chairwoman Grace Natalie for saying that her party opposed bylaws based on religion. (Reuters Photo/Darren Whiteside)

Indonesia's 'Millennials Party' Draws Fire for Comments on Shariah Bylaws


NOVEMBER 23, 2018

Jakarta. The police have questioned the head of one of Indonesia's newest and most progressive political parties, who is battling accusations of "Islamophobia" from rival politicians after she said her party opposed the growth of bylaws based on religion.

Indonesia is officially secular and has a tradition of pluralism but Islam has increasingly crept into politics in a country home to significant Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and other religious minorities.

Grace Natalie founded the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI), often dubbed the "millennials party," in 2014 to offer an alternative for young voters disillusioned by traditional parties often run by an entrenched elite.

In a speech this week attended by President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, Natalie, who is ethnic Chinese, spoke out against intolerance, saying the PSI would not support local regulations based on Islamic law or Christian scripture.

"We want to return to the constitution so that there is a guarantee for all citizens, whatever their background, or religion they believe, or faith they have," said Natalie, whose party is part of the coalition backing Jokowi's bid for a second term next year.

Police questioned Natalie following a complaint filed by Eggi Sudjana, a lawyer and member of the National Mandate Party (PAN), who told Reuters her comments breached laws on hate speech and attacked religion. He urged her to apologize.

Some rival politicians also accused her of "Islamophobia," while defending the adoption of bylaws based on shariah or religious values.

Jakarta Police spokesman Chief Comr. Argo Yuwono said they are still investigating to determine if any law was broken.

In a party statement, Natalie said that during six hours of questioning she had told police her speech referred to "a willingness to implement equality and justice for all citizens before the law."

She also said it was based on an academic study showing how religion-based rules could affect women and minority groups.

The only province in Indonesia allowed to enforce Islamic law is Aceh, but other regions have adopted bylaws enforcing elements of shariah.

Such bylaws were divisive, said Muhammad Abdullah Darraz, director of the Maarif Institute, which promotes religious and cultural harmony, who defended Natalie.

"We have witnessed identity politics recently emerging and it has the potential to divide the unity of the nation," he said.

Pancasila, Indonesia's state ideology, includes national unity, social justice and democracy alongside belief in God, and enshrines religious diversity in a secular system of government.

But religious and political tensions have spiraled in the last few years after Islamists led hundreds of thousands in Jakarta protests against the capital's then-governor, Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian, charged with insulting the Koran.

Ahok, an ally of Jokowi, lost his bid for re-election in 2017 to Muslim rival Anies Baswedan after the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) agitated against him for months. He was jailed for two years over blasphemy.