Flores Catholics told vote more important than festival

Indonesian election body refuses to reschedule general and presidential votes for islanders' Holy Week celebrations
Flores Catholics told vote more important than festival

A sea procession takes place as part of Semana Santa festival celebrations in Larantuka in Indonesia's East Nusa Tenggara province in this 2013 file photo. (Photo by Ryan Dagur/ucanews.com)

Authorities have rejected a request from Catholics on Indonesia’s Flores Island to allow them to reschedule casting their ballots in the country’s national and presidential election on April 17.

The Catholics say the election clashes with a centuries-old Holy Week festival in Larantuka called Semana Santa that kicks off on the same day as the poll.

Indonesia is due to elect a new president, parliamentarians and local council members that day.

The festival runs from April 17 through to Easter Sunday and normally attracts more than 10,000 pilgrims from across Indonesia each year. It reaches its peak on Good Friday, when a sea procession takes place in the morning.

Church leaders had petitioned the election commission to move the vote to another day during a meeting on March 28.

However, the commission rejected the request but said arrangements would be made so that Catholics’ enjoyment of the festival would not be disrupted too much.

"We will start voting early and increase the number of polling stations so that the voting process can run more smoothly," Election Commission chief Arief Budiman said. "We are trying not to disrupt the holding of a Christian religious festival.” 

East Flores district chief Anton Hadjon said he was disappointed with the commission’s decision. "The commission should have considered religious days when setting the election date," he said.

As such, voter turnout on Flores will likely suffer, local officials fear.

"When people in Flores are given a choice, to worship or go to the polls, they will certainly choose worship," said Jemris Fointuna, a commissioner on the Election Advisory Body in East Nusa Tenggara province.

This same fear is also reflected nationally, with Christians across the country not happy that the election is taking place in Holy Week.

This has prompted the Indonesian bishops’ conference to call on Catholics to vote despite it being Holy Week.

"Worship is important. However, Catholics are expected to participate in the election to contribute to the future of the nation," Father Paulus Christian Siswantoko, executive secretary of Indonesian bishops’ commission for the laity, said.

A survey by the Center for Strategic and International Studies released last week concluded that more than three million Christians will choose to go on holiday on election day.

The number of Christians in Indonesia is roughly about 23 million people, of whom Catholics number between 7-8 million.

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