As tensions rise between the leaders and supporters of opposing parties ahead of local elections on 15 February, the Archbishop of Jakarta issued a pastoral letter in which he reiterated the Church’s neutrality and non-partisanship and its support for dignity and human values.
In the letter, instead of siding with any candidate in particular,
Mgr Ignatius Suharyo reminded Catholics of their duty – regardless of
political alignment – to respect the dignity and value of human life.
The Indonesian Bishops Conference (KWI), which also highlights the
dignity of voting and respect for the country’s founding principles,
calls for voting in a peaceful and relaxed atmosphere at a time of
Voting is set to take place not only the capital, Jakarta, but also
in other provinces and regencies across Indonesia. The pastoral letter
follows recent political clashes that have gone beyond normal political
Tensions have increased across the country, fuelled by extremist
groups and radical movements that exploit religion for political
reasons, such as the recent blasphemy case involving radical groups
against the Christian governor of Jakarta.
Ahead of the local vote, Mgr Suharyo decided to address the faithful in person, making some specific requests.
Responding to the appeal by Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo
and his administration, the Archdiocese of Jakarta "invites everyone to
remain calm" and "support" the central government in ensuring a regular
Voting, the prelate notes, is one of the most important moments in
the life of a citizen, who is called to exercise his or her "civic
rights" and choose "the best candidate". People must exercise this right
"in a fair and responsible" way, he added.
In such a situation, some guidelines are needed to remind people to
vote for those who "defend the spirit of unity in diversity", which is
one of the founding values of the country.
"The spirit of unity in diversity is crucial in the context of
defending Pancasila, the founding principles of the state, and the union
of the country’s various groups," the archbishop said.
Finally, for Mgr Suharyo, churches are not places to campaign in favour of this or that candidate.
In recent weeks, extremist groups and radical movements have
organised demonstrations, ostensibly to defend Islam. In reality, they
have been used to attack Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama,
a Christian and an ethnic Chinese, on political and legal grounds.
Such protests can be seen in a wider context in which some want to
destabilise the country by throwing it into chaos in order to undermine
Analysts and experts point out that although protests are directed at
the governor accused of blasphemy, in fact the real target is the
Widodo does not belong to the "old regime" that ruled the country for
decades. Instead, since the early days of his mandate he has been
involved in a campaign against corruption, one of Indonesia’s endemic
ills, and a major factor in its decade-long economic stagnation.
For this reason, the archbishop of Jakarta writes that local
elections are not only of local significance, but must breathe new life
into the principles of the State and the fight against corruption and
malfeasance, and prevent the return to power of those who thrived in
dishonesty and graft.