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Indonesian bishops call for election date change

East Nusa Tenggara prelates bemoan polls coinciding with Holy Week festivals
Indonesian bishops call for election date change

Boats with Christian devotees participate in a Holy Week boat procession in the waters of Larantuka, East Nusa Tenggara province, on the eastern Indonesian island of Flores. (Photo by Ryan Dagur/ucanews.com)

Bishops in Indonesia's Catholic-majority East Nusa Tenggara province have called on the government to reschedule next year's legislative and presidential elections as they coincide with Holy Week celebrations.

The General Election Commission has set April 17, 2019, as the date for the polls. However, the bishops want the authorities to make an exception and reschedule the poll either in the province or, better still, across the country.

Father Siprianus Sande, vicar-general of Larantuka Diocese, said East Nusa Tenggara bishops will soon meet lawmakers and write to the General Election Commission asking for a rescheduling. "We don't want political activities to ruin the solemnity of [Holy Week] celebrations," he said.

Larantuka Diocese is known for its five-centuries-old Holy Week festival, called Semana Santa, which usually runs from the Wednesday through the Easter weekend and attracts more than 10,000 pilgrims from across Indonesia each year.

The election coincides with the start of Semana Santa — on April 17 — when many major roads are closed for the event.

Archbishop Vinsensius Sensi Potokota of Ende said he supported the move. "It's not just a petition to change [the date of the election]. It's about the government not having carefully considered the needs of communities," he said.

Juventus Prima Yoris Kago, chairman of the Indonesian Catholic Students Association, said the government should have checked on the main celebrations of every religion before determining the date for the poll.

"I fear many Catholics will not take part in the election," Kago said, particularly Catholic pilgrims who attend the Semana Santa celebrations.

Father Siprianus Hormat, executive secretary of the Indonesia Bishops' Conference, said the conference will not intervene but East Nusa Tenggara bishops were welcome to talk about their objections with the government.

Pramono Ubaid Tanthowi, a general election commissioner, said the election watchdog will only discuss the issue after it receives an official request from the bishops.

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