Indonesia's bill on alcohol prohibition gets secular backing

Indonesia's bill on alcohol prohibition gets secular backing

Lawmakers from secular parties have added their voices to those of their counterparts in Islamic parties in support of a bill prohibiting the consumption of alcoholic beverages.

The ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the Golkar Party and the Democratic Party respectively the largest party and second- and fourth-largest parties in the House of Representatives -- have agreed to the deliberation of the bill.

"I see no reason for the bill not to progress. We've all agreed to establish controls on the consumption of alcohol. It's for reasons of health and safety," the deputy chairman of the House legislative body (Baleg), Saan Mustofa of the Democratic Party, told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

The Islamist National Development Party (PPP) and Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) initiated the bill in 2012, since when it had been on the back burner until Baleg agreed on Monday for it to be taken to the next stage.

The bill is the first of 37 priority bills set to be passed this year, with lawmakers to convene on Thursday to ensure no clauses in the bill contravene existing laws.

Saan refused, however, to reveal whether his party supported a clause in the bill stipulating between three months' and two years' imprisonment for anyone caught consuming alcohol.

"It's too early for me to comment on my stance on that. It's a preliminary draft and can still be changed," he said, adding that Baleg had yet to discuss the bill's substance.

The bill, a copy of which has been obtained by The Jakarta Post, will, if enacted, prohibit the sale, production, distribution and consumption of all beverages containing more than 1 per cent alcohol.

According to the bill, any person consuming alcoholic drinks will face three months to two years in prison or a fine of between Rp 10 million (S$1050) and Rp 50 million.

Baleg member Mukhamad Misbakhun of the Golkar Party said that while the criminal charges were unnecessary, the bill's motivation was to ensure order. "A limit is needed on the sale and consumption of alcoholic drinks," he insisted.

The bill does, however, include a clause allowing exemptions. In its explanation section, the exemption includes "consumption for customary uses, religious rituals, tourism, in pharmacies and in places authorised under the regulations".

"The bill is aimed at ensuring public order. But it should not contradict the long-held traditions of our society," said Baleg member Masinton Pasaribu of the PDI-P.

"We've suggested that the Baleg discuss carefully the minimum alcohol content that can be accepted. The Batak people, for example, consume tuak liquor in rituals related to birth and death," he said.

Tuak usually falls under Category B with alcoholic content of between 5 and 20 per cent under existing regulations.

Alcoholic drinks have deep roots in Indonesian society, from the many traditional spirits and bootleg liquor to Bintang - a beer brand globally synonymous with Indonesia, home to the world's biggest Muslim population.

If the bill is passed, publicly listed PT Multi Bintang, Indonesia's biggest brewery, which is controlled by Heineken International BV, will be the prime casualty.

The company's president commissioner, Cosmas Batubara, said the business and investment climate would be severely disrupted if the bill were passed, but remained optimistic of eventual changes to the bill, as it was still at its earliest stage.

"Lawmakers may have their opinions, but they do not represent the entire House," argued Cosmas.

As the bill was initiated by the House, the government has so far been kept in the dark. "I haven't received a copy of the bill, so I can't comment," said Coordinating Economic Minister Sofyan Djalil.

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