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Indonesian election candidates promise religious tolerance

Two campaigns offer different ideas on promoting freedom

Indonesian election candidates promise religious tolerance

Kastorius Sinaga, left, spokesman for Prabowo Subianto, and Siti Musdah Mulia, center, spokeswoman for Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo, listen to presenter Fessy Alwi during a public forum. 

Ryan Dagur, Jakarta

June 19, 2014

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The two candidates in Indonesia's presidential election will take serious steps to promote religious tolerance in the predominantly Muslim country if they are elected on July 9, their campaign teams say.

Prabowo Subianto and Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo began their campaigns in early June.

Representatives for both candidates participated in a public forum held Wednesday in Jakarta. The forum was sponsored by the Journalist Association for Diversity.

While Prabowo's team pledged to increase education and social welfare as ways to deal with religious conflict, Joko's campaign team said their candidate will eliminate laws that discriminate against minority religions.

Siti Musdah Mulia, a member of Joko's campaign team, said the first step the candidate will take is to eliminate a regulation on the construction of houses of worship.

"It gives minorities difficulty [in obtaining permits to build their places of worship]," she said.

The decree states that a minority religious community must have at least 90 congregation members and the approval of at least 60 people from other religious communities in order to build a house of worship.

"[The regulation] discriminates against minorities," she said. "The regulation is also contradictory to our constitution, which guarantees the freedom of worship."

Mulia, a professor at Jakarta's Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University, claimed that the regulation was a source of conflict for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

"It's the tyranny of the majority against minorities. That's why we will eliminate it," she said.

She said Joko's platform also calls for the removal of religious identity on the national identity card in order to prevent discrimination.

The Indonesian government acknowledges six religions: Buddhism, Catholicism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam and Protestantism.

Indonesian law requires its citizens to hold a national identity card identifying the holder as a member of one of the six recognized religions. Those who ascribe to no religion or wish to leave the column blank face discrimination and harassment, including refusal of employment.

Kastorius Sinaga, a spokesman for Prabowo, said that the former general will uphold the national motto, Unity in Diversity, to promote religious tolerance.

Prabowo plans to review all religious based-conflicts to have occurred in the country, he said.

"Such conflict happens because of other factors like social and political situations. But religions are then involved so as to make the conflict big. In fact, poverty and lack of education are the triggers," he said.

According to the Jakarta-based human rights monitoring group Setara Institute, violations of freedom of religion or belief have increased steadily, from a documented 200 incidents in 2009 to 264 in 2012.

Sinaga said Prabowo "will firstly improve people's education and welfare … if these can be dealt with, then conflicts will be gone".

Firdaus Mubarik, a spokesman for the Indonesian Ahmadiyah Congregation, called on the candidates to keep their campaign promises if they win.

"Don't just promise. Today's president also promised many things during his campaign, but many are not fulfilled yet. So now the candidates' challenge is to make their promises real if they are elected," he told

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