Public blames Yudhoyono for rising religious intolerance

A public opinion poll conducted by the Indonesian Voters Institute (LPI) has found that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is considered the most lenient government official when it came to dealing with vigilante groups in Indonesia.

The Jakarta-based pollster found that in public perceptions about which officials stood up for pluralism, Yudhoyono came in last, with a score of 2.57 out of 10.

Joining Yudhoyono at the bottom of the list were Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi with 2.60 points, Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Djoko Suyanto with 2.75 points and Coordinating Minister for the Economy Hatta Rajasa with 2.83 points.

The pollster even found that among the public Yudhoyono was considered a weaker advocate for pluralism than controversial Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali who got 3.72 per cent points.

"Yudhoyono has failed to prosecute intolerant groups that violate the rights of religious minorities in the name of majority beliefs," LPI director Boni Hargens said during a press briefing on Sunday in Jakarta.

Boni said that Yudhoyono's reluctance to crack down of vigilante organizations had emboldened the groups to carry out more attacks against religious minorities, which had intensified during Yudhoyono's second term.

In the survey, the LPI categorised Yudhoyono as part of the political establishment, constituted of those who had been in politics for at least 10 years.

Yudhoyono was first elected President in 2004 and was reelected in 2009 with 60 per cent of the vote.

The Wahid Institute, which promotes pluralism and the peaceful practice of Islam, stated in its 2012 report that religious intolerance in the country had grown steadily in the last four years. The report showed that the number of religious intolerance cases in 2012 stood at 274, up from 267 in 2011. In 2010, the institute recorded 184 cases and 121 cases in 2009.

Major cases of religious intolerance include the banning of church congregations from worshipping at the Yasmin Indonesian Christian Church (GKI) in Bogor and the Batak Protestant Church (HKBP) Filadelfia in Bekasi; the ban on Ahmadiyah teachings; and the demolition of a mosque in the predominantly Christian city of Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara.

On Sunday, members of the GKI Yasmin and the HKBP Filadelfia congregations staged their weekly protest in front of the State Palace on Sunday to continue demanding their church be reopened.

The congregations also lambasted Yudhoyono for declaring success in protecting religious freedom in the country, a claim he made during the Bali Democracy Forum last week.

"If what the President said in Bali was true, not total nonsense, then we wouldn't be having our weekly services on the roadside, but in our own churches," the congregations said in a press release on Sunday.

Earlier this year, Yudhoyono's decision to accept the World Statesman Award in New York stirred controversy, especially since it came amid a string of attacks against religious minorities, which included the forced relocation of the Sampang Shia community on the island of Madura.

In his speech prior to receiving the award, Yudhoyono admitted that Indonesia still faced problems including "intolerance, communal conflict and radicalism".

Yudhoyono then vowed to maintain harmony in society and address incidents of religious intolerance.

In its other findings from the survey, the LPI reported that popular Jakarta Governor Joko "Jokowi" Widodo was considered as the most pluralist public figure, scoring 5.12 points.

Other figures who were deemed by the public to support pluralism were People's Conscience Party (Hanura) vice presidential candidate Harry Tanoe with 5.07 points and Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) chairman Abraham Samad with 4.44 points.

"A political figure should be a pluralist figure, given that he or she will lead a country that is very rich in terms of ethnicity and religion," Boni said.