Conservative lawmakers in Muslim-majority Indonesia have renewed efforts to pass a sweeping alcohol ban that could see drinkers jailed for up to three years, but the proposal has faced widespread backlash as the country tries to turbocharge its pandemic-ravaged economy.
The bill aims to ban the distribution, storage, and consumption of beverages that contain more than one percent alcohol content, though there are many possible exemptions for traditional ceremonies and tourists, who before the coronavirus shutdowns visited Indonesia’s island hotspots in droves. Business owners in violation of the law could also face jail terms of up to 10 years.
It was first submitted in 2015 but made its way back into the House of Representatives last week thanks to a cohort of lawmakers from parties with religious leanings. Indonesia practices a more relaxed form of Islam, and alcohol is available at shops, bars, and liquor shops, which have occasionally been the target of Islamist protests. Previous attempts to impose alcohol legislation caused blowback in a country that prides itself on tolerance and diversity even as the government has tried to contain a rise in more conservative brands of the faith in recent years.
A lawmaker from one of the parties pushing for the bill defended it in an interview with local media, saying it would protect people from harmful consequences of drinking alcohol while at the same time creating order in society. “Looking at the reality, the alcohol bill should be forwarded and signed into law for the sake of our future generations,” said Illiza Sa’aduddin Djamal from the United Development Party, one of the groups behind the effort. However, a criminologist interviewed by CNN Indonesia said there was little evidence of links between a rise in crime and alcohol use in the country.
Prabu Revolusi, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, is optimistic that the deliberation of the bill will include public participation. “We hope it will involve stakeholders in the tourism [industry] to make sure that the regulation will accommodate aspirations from across the board,” he told VICE World News.
But pushback is already coming in from across the country, including in mixed Christian-majority communities in parts of Indonesia that consume a variety of alcoholic home brews like sopi or cap tikus, both made from sugar palm.
With the exemptions around tourism still unclear, regional lawmakers in prime vacation island Bali also voiced their concerns, as headlines in international media warned foreign readers of the possible new law. “Kiwis could be jailed for drinking alcohol in Bali under proposed Indonesia booze ban,” read one headline out of New Zealand.
The population in Bali is also largely Hindu, and residents there sometimes use a local spirit for traditional ceremonies. The drink has entered the market in recent years for sale at local shops. “We are a nation in unity that was built upon diversity, and there is also a potential economic impact involved,” a member of the regional House of Representatives was quoted as saying.
The debate is happening at the same time that Indonesia, which has one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in Asia, has passed a controversial jobs bill aimed at streamlining business practices and inviting more investment.
Trade and policy experts believe the economic argument over the proposed ban will win out in the end, especially as the Southeast Asian country attempts to welcome back tourists and reopen its borders if international travel can resume. The recent news on successful vaccine trials has further lifted hopes in the region’s tourism-reliant economies that hotels and beaches will fill up next year.
“Some foreign travelers, mainly from Australia, Japan, Korea, China, and several European countries have contributed to revenues by [consuming] alcoholic beverages,” Ketut Darmayasa, the Chairman of the Indonesian Food & Beverage Executive Association in Bali, told the IDN Times.