2019 elections: Pancasila contested

Recent debates on the five principles of Pancasila should worry those advocating democratic values and religious freedom, as Islamists in both the incumbent’s and challenger’s camps have tried to appropriate the state ideology.

All political parties of course shun accusations of being anti-Pancasila. Closer to the general elections this April, the rhetoric of Islamic-leaning parties of both camps implies Pancasila serves their aspirations more than those of secular parties.  

Their reasoning is that Pancasila’s first principle of Ketuhanan Yang Maha Esa (Believe in God) means the state is obliged to recognize and accommodate religious values, taken to mean the “Islamic” values of the majority. Thus, any regulation that contravenes sharia (of their interpretation) contradicts Pancasila and, therefore, should be opposed by those who claim to be committed to the national ideology.

That was the logic echoed in the climatic address delivered by Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) leader now in self-exile in Saudi Arabia, Rizieq Shihab.  In a recording broadcast during the latest Islamists’ rally of Dec. 2, 2018, dubbed a “reunion” of the 2016 rally on the same date, Rizieq suggested that Pancasila did not allow blasphemy, thus sympathizers of the 212 movement should not vote for political parties who support blasphemers of religion. He was referring to former Jakarta governor Basuki “BTP” Tjahaja Purnama, who was recently released from imprisonment for blasphemy, in part because of the Dec.2, 2016 massive march against his reelection, and all the political parties which supported him, which are now supporting President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

Rizieq’s logic and those of Islamists on the formal accommodation of Islam refer to a historical background: After a failed attempt to write a new Constitution for the fledgling republic, first president Sukarno issued a 1959 presidential decree reimposing the first 1945 Constitution, thus restoring his presidential powers over squabbling politicians. He referred to its original preamble later known as the Jakarta Charter, which “embodies the soul of the 1945 Constitution and is an integral part of the Constitution”.

However, the latest version of the Constitution’s preamble no longer contained the earlier words that stated the first principal of Pancasila as “belief in God with the obligation to abide by Islamic sharia for adherents of Islam”.

For his 2012 master’s thesis on the relationship between Pancasila and sharia for the University of Malaya, Rizieq argued that the original Pancasila is the Jakarta Charter version, the result of a difficult compromise between nationalists and Islamists on June 22, 1945, during preparations for the nation’s independence; and not Sukarno’s proposed version of Pancasila delivered earlier on June 1, 1945 – which later became the official birthday of Pancasila.

In 2013, the FPI declared a new slogan, NKRI Bersyariah (the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia with sharia), a rallying cry to Muslims hoping for the state accommodation of Islam, with a necessary assertion of patriotism to the republic.  For the FPI, which is now expressing support for challenger Prabowo Subianto, Sukarno’s 1959 mention of the Jakarta Charter still applies until today.

A similar outlook of the Pancasila has been expressed by Islamist parties. Recent examples include debates on perda syariah (sharia-inspired regional regulations)the blasphemy law and regulations that relate to gender and sexuality, including the controversial draft bill on sexual violence.

When the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI), part of Jokowi’s coalition, expressed opposition toward sharia-inspired bylaws, it was reproached by both the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), an Islamist party supporting Prabowo, and the United Development Party (PPP), an Islamist party supporting President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, with a similar statemen; that the PSI didn’t understand Pancasila. Both Islamist parties evoked the same reasoning: Pancasila’s “belief in God” means accommodating sharia-inspired bylaws. 

Such was also the PKS’s response toward the PSI’s declaration of prohibiting its members from practicing polygamy and its commitment of pursuing a policy that is more restrictive of the practice. The PKS added that the PSI was just seeking sensation while forgetting that Sukarno, known as the penggali (digger) of Pancasila from diverse indigenous sources of wisdom, had multiple wives.

While the PSI has campaigned for revoking the blasphemy law, Islamist parties have been staunch supporters of the law. In fact, their interpretation of Pancasila was accepted by the Constitutional Court (MK) during the judicial review of the law in 2009-2010. The court upheld the law, saying it is in line with the Constitution’s limitation on human rights based on “religious values” (Article 28J). This limitation, the court ruled, follows Pancasila’s first principle.

Another example is the Constitutional Court’s rejection of the petition to outlaw consensual premarital sex and to criminalize homosexuality in late 2017. Four of the court’s nine judges raised dissenting opinion. The ruling had said it was not the court’s authority to create a new legal norm and the request should have been directed toward the legislature.

But the dissenting judges said the court should have accepted the petition. They said the Criminal Code was a Dutch legacy with a “secular” paradigm that was therefore silent on premarital sex. They suggested the Criminal Code should be revised “in light of Pancasila’s first principle, which should therefore be interpreted as outlawing sexual practices which contradict religious values”. Thus, according to the four judges, Pancasila disapproves zina (adultery, fornication and homosexuality).

Islamists parties including the PPP and PKS are still pursuing a revision of the Criminal Code, also raising their interpretation of Pancasila’s first principle.

None of the so-called secular parties, officially based on Pancasila, have expressed explicit rhetoric like the PSI on such issues. They are likely worried that challenging the Islamists’ aspirations would make them unpopular and perceived as anti-Islam.

Meanwhile, most talks on Pancasila imply that the state ideology provides the best governing political system for the country and a perfect platform for Indonesia’s “unity in diversity” slogan. Most intellectuals write on Pancasila as if it cannot be a liability despite its contradicting interpretations. We rarely hear focused talks on the relationship between Pancasila and sharia.

For instance, can Pancasila accommodate such sharia-inspired bylaws?  Does it necessitate a blasphemy law? To what extent is it inclusive of sharia? These are questions that are far more needed to be addressed than the fashionable glorification of Pancasila. Otherwise, we might see Pancasila swinging to the right in the near future.

— This article was originally published at the Jakarta Post, 15 Feb 2019.



Leave a Reply