Jakarta. Indonesian leaders, both from the government and mass organizations, are increasingly turning to Pancasila — the country’s five-tenet state ideology that was introduced back in 1945 — to stave off threats to the country’s tradition of “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika,” or unity in diversity.
Despite predictions it may become the world’s next economic powerhouse — with consulting company McKinsey & Co saying Indonesia will surpass Germany and the UK by 2030 to be the world’s seventh-largest economy — Southeast Asia’s largest economy is also facing a critical juncture in its journey as a republic, as power-hungry politicians increasingly play the identity politics card, highlighting the nation’s ethnic and religious diversity and fomenting conflicts to gain votes instead of promoting tolerance and unity.
Fears of a crack in Indonesian unity can be seen in how often a call for “NKRI Harga Mati” (United Republic of Indonesia: Defend It With Our Lives) is repeated both by government officials and jingoistic community leaders.
In this increasingly tense atmosphere, some are worried that the simultaneous regional elections in June next year and the presidential election in 2019 will trigger an even bigger division in Indonesian society, or worse still, violent clashes between groups clamoring for power.
What might make matters worse is that social and economic inequality in the country is expected to grow even wider, which also means slower economic growth and stilted efforts at poverty reduction — multiplying tensions between the rich and the poor.
Pancasila, the official state ideology that endorses pluralism, a united Indonesia and social justice, is increasingly being seen by nationalist-minded politicians as a kind of ideological bulwark against attempts at dividing the nation, for example calls to establish a caliphate in Indonesia or to incorporate sharia law in its constitution.
But there are also fears, expressed by many rights groups, that Pancasila can easily be used by jingoistic elements in the government or Indonesian society as a stick to beat groups who hold a different ideology but by law have the right to exist in the country.
A Nation Unified by Pancasila
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said on Saturday (12/08) that Pancasila continues to play a key role to unite the country, which has hundreds of ethnic groups, religions and languages spread over thousands of islands.
Islam is the most popular religion in Indonesia, with around 88 percent of the country’s 250 million population professing to be Muslims. But the archipelago is still home to hundreds of ethnic groups and traditional tribes, who speak hundreds of different languages. The Indonesian culture and tradition are a product of centuries of complex interactions between these different tribes, cultures and religions.
“Without [Pancasila], we won’t be able to compete with other nations,” Jokowi said, adding that everyone in the country should be on the same page when it comes to upholding the state ideology.
The president’s comment came during a workshop on Pancasila at the Bogor State Palace in Bogor, West Java.
“Pancasila is what unites all of us here, even though we are different from one another,” the president told participants at the workshop, which comprised 540 students and lecturers from 510 state and private universities in Indonesia.
The president reminded the workshop participants that Indonesia’s 34 provinces are home to 714 different tribes and more than 1,100 languages, and that conflicts between them would be hard to avoid if people forget about the unifying values of Pancasila.
Jokowi’s Special Pancasila Unit
Saturday’s event was organized by a newly established presidential unit tasked with “strengthening understanding and implementation of Pancasila as a state ideology.”
The special unit is called UKP-PIP, an acronym for its full name, the “Presidential Working Unit-Pancasila Ideological Training.” It was officially established back in June, led by moderate Muslim scholar Yudi Latief, who was sworn in on June 7.
The unit is a non-structural government agency that will help the president form Pancasila-friendly government policies. Yudi has nine advisors, representatives and scholars from various religious groups, who also took their oath on the same day with him at the State Palace in Jakarta.
Megawati Soekarnoputri, the chairwoman of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and a former president of Indonesia; Mahmud MD, a former chief justice at Indonesia’s Constitutional Court and Try Sutrisno, a former vice president of Indonesia and a retired general, are the secular nationalist figures in UKP-PIP’s advisory board.
Yudi’s advisors from Muslim groups are Said Aqil Siraj, the chairman of Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama; Ahmad Syafi’i Ma’arif, a muslim intellectual and former chairman of Indonesia’s second largest Muslim organization Muhammadiyah; and Ma’ruf Amin, the chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council, or MUI.
Representatives from the other officially recognized religions in Indonesia are also included in the UKP-PIP advisory board: Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI) Chairman Rev. Andreas Anangguru Yewangoe, Buddhayana Indonesia Assembly (MBI) Chairman Sudhamek and Indonesian Hindu Council (PHDI) Chairman Wisnu Bawa Tenaya.
Yudi has also been given the freedom to hire professionals, academics and scholars for the UKP-PIP, which administratively is managed by the Cabinet Secretary office.
The special unit will last as long as the term of the president that signs it into office. So the current UKP-PIP team will stay together until 2019 when Jokowi’s term ends.
Threats to Pancasila
During the event on Saturday, Megawati, the daughter of Indonesia’s first president Soekarno, who helped write Pancasila into the country’s 1945 Constution, pointed out that hardline Islamist groups are gaining stronger foothold among mainstream Muslims and issued a caution to politicians not to stoke ethnic and religious sentiments and remind them to look to Pancasila’s unifying values that the country’s founding father had worked hard to formulate.
Previously on Aug. 8, Indonesian Military (TNI) Chief Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo said he had seen “seeds of division” planted between people of different religions.
“These seeds of division are flourishing, please don’t let this country become a battleground for religious groups,” he said, adding that everyone in the country should follow its “Unity in Diversity” motto to the letter.
Lobby to Muslim Groups Intensified
Meanwhile, Jokowi’s administration is apparently intensifying its lobby to Muslim communities, especially after it decided to disband Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, or HTI, the local chapter of pan-Islamic movement Hizbut Tahrir, which denounces democracy and dreams of establishing a global caliphate through non-violent means.
Analysts said disbanding HTI was a bold move, since the group — which has been around in Indonesia since the early 1980s — is very influential among conservative Muslim communities, especially those that are disappointed by the current government.
The move was also feared to spark negative sentiments against Jokowi, with some hardliners already labeling the president as anti-Islam.
On Aug. 1, the State Palace opened its doors for a religious event called “National Dzikr” (National Prayer Chant), inviting MUI cleric Ma’ruf Amin and thousands of Islamic boarding school students, or santri, and hundreds of Islamic clerics, or ulema, from all over Indonesia.
“The blessing of Indonesia is that it has an ideology that can unite all the disparate elements within the country: Pancasila. Thank God we have it,” Ma’ruf Amin, who comes from NU, said.
Meanwhile, speaking to BeritaSatu, the Jakarta Globe’s sister publication, on Aug. 9, Muhammadiyah’s former chairman Syafi’i Maarif said Indonesian politicians should start transforming themselves into statesmen.
“There is a big difference between politicians and statesmen. Politicians care only for short-term personal goals; statesmen think about how this nation can flourish thousands of years from now,” he said.
Komaruddin Hidayat, the rector of Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University (UIN) in Jakarta, said the fact that a country like Indonesia can exist on the face of the earth is a “historical miracle.”
“Other countries that are as big as ours all have land areas contained within one continent. But we are a maritime nation, with so many islands, inhabited so many ethnic groups, all with different religions. How was it possible that they all decided to unite as one nation?” the respected Muslim scholar said then answered his own question by saying that Pancasila has so far worked as a glue for the nation.
Minority Groups Need Not Worry
Indonesia’s religious minority groups — Christians and the Ahmadis to cite two examples — have long complained of terror and intimidation from radical Islamist groups, which include attacks on churches and Ahmadi mosques. During the blasphemy trial of former Jakarta governor, the Christian-Chinese Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, when Islamist groups intensified their hardline rhetoric against what they saw as anti-Islam sentiments that the government had failed to stem, minority groups in Indonesia could be forgiven for thinking they had even more cause for concern.
But leaders of Indonesia’s minority religious groups have come out to say that they will also look to Pancasila to give them protection.
Bishop Antonius Bunyamin, the Bishop of Bandung, for example, has called Indonesian Catholics to “think, feel and behave in accordance to the Pancasila ideology.”
Antonius made the call during his speech at the Indonesian Conference of Bishops, which was themed “Revitalizing Pancasila,” at Atma Jaya University in Jakarta on Saturday (12/08).
Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Ignasius Jonan, a Catholic minister in Jokowi’s cabinet, attended the conference and said that Indonesia has always had a tradition of tolerance that develops naturally. “There’s no need to be worried. We should not think too much about the majority versus minority divide. It’s not helpful,” he said.
Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu, who also attended and spoke at the conference, said Indonesia should learn from the lessons of other countries in history which quickly disintegrated in the absence of a strong ideology that can bind them together, making a special mention of Yugoslavia that broke up into five countries in 1992 and soon became embroiled in the long drawn-out Yugoslav Wars.
The general said without Pancasila, Indonesia will lose its self-identity.
“Without Pancasila, we can easily be infiltrated by foreign ideologies that may not fit our nation’s culture,” he said.
Writing by Muhamad Al Azhari