12 February 2019 - In April, Indonesians will pick their president, vice president and lawmakers. Political, religious and civil society leaders are worried about voters’ apathy. The archbishop of Semarang issued an appeal for national unity: "Our opinions and political choices may be different, but Indonesia is us".
As Indonesia’s general election approaches, Mgr Robertus Rubiyatmoko, archbishop of Semarang (Central Java), warns Catholics against not voting or casting a blank (white) ballot (Golongan Putih). Such "practices are inadvisable”, writes the prelate in a pastoral letter titled ‘express your nationalism by becoming a smart and wise citizen to vote’. Instead, “Catholics in Semarang Archdiocese should exercise their political rights by going to cast their ballot.”
For the first time in the country's history, 190 million eligible voters will elect the president, vice president, Members of Parliament (DPR) and regional representatives (DPD) on the same day, 17 April.
However, political leaders, top clergy and civil society movements are afraid that a large number of Indonesians will not go to the polls.
One possible reason is the fact that the election will be held on the country’s only long weekend of 2019, just two days before Holy Friday (19 April), which is a statutory holiday.
According to some analysts, there is also widespread disillusionment towards politics following two recent events that attracted the attention of public opinion.
One concerns the former governor of Jakarta, Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, an Ethnic Chinese, who was released from prison on 24 January after purging a two-year sentence for blasphemy.
Considered by progressives as a "fighter for democracy" and a role model for every public official, he shocked many of his supporters by divorcing his wife and immediately announcing that he was going to wed the woman who was his wife’s former female bodyguard.
Another issue that has divided Indonesian society is the release on “humanitarian” grounds of radical Islamic leader Abu Bakar Baasyir, which was eventually cancelled because of mounting criticism.
The 80-year-old spiritual guide of Jemaah Islamiah is considered the mastermind behind the 2002 Bali attacks. Baasyir was sentenced in 2011 to 15 years for funding a training camp for extremists in the province of Aceh.
The leaders of the Catholic Church of Indonesia are deeply concerned about voters’ apathy. For this reason, Mgr Rubiyatmoko is appealing to Catholic voters and politicians.
The archbishop of Semarang wants Catholics to vote after looking at candidates, political programmes and their work, avoiding vote trading.
With respect to political leaders, he reminds them of their “moral duty to apply ethical rules of conduct, and that their goal must be the country’s prosperity."
"The election campaign should be seen as a form of political education in which programmes, visions and missions are shown to the public. We urge you to promote social justice for all."
Mgr Rubiyatmoko ends his letter with an appeal to national unity. "Our opinions and political choices may be different, but Indonesia is us".