The Indonesian Bishops' Conference has stressed the importance of Catholics exercising their right to vote in presidential and legislative elections taking place during Holy Week. The General Election Commission
has set April 17 for the poll, which is the Wednesday of the April 14-21 religious celebration. Many Catholics traditionally go on pilgrimages during Holy Week. For example, the Semana Santa festival in East Nusa Tenggara province attracts more than 10,000 pilgrims. "This nation needs smart and good people to be leaders," the Bishops’ Commission for the Laity said in a moral exhortation issued March 1. "They can be leaders only if we vote for them." Abstaining would aid candidates who wanted to harm Pancasila and destroy the nation, the bishops cautioned. Pancasila is the term used to describe Indonesia’s founding principles, not least unity in diversity. Speaking to ucanews.com, the commission's executive secretary, Father Paulus Christian Siswantoko
, said Holy Week should provide momentum for Catholics to vote for well-intentioned candidates. Rather than just regarding Holy Week as providing for a holiday, Catholics should view it as a God-given opportunity to make an important electoral decision with a clear mind, he added. Even if Catholics went on a pilgrimage, they could use a special form enabling them to cast ballots at different polling stations from the ones where they are registered to vote. "They must not forget about their political rights," Father Siswantoko said, including in relation to the protection of religious freedoms. Hargo Mandirahardjo, a layman who heads the Jakarta-based Association of Indonesian Catholic Intellectuals, exhorted Catholics not to be apathetic in relation to the upcoming presidential and legislative elections. "Abstention is a choice indeed, but it's not the best one for our nation," he said. "A vote determines the nation's future." Meanwhile, Archbishop Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo
of Jakarta said in a pastoral letter that exercising the right to vote was the "responsibility of faith and the responsibility of a good citizen." More than 185 million Indonesians will be eligible to vote in the elections.