Indonesia: A Push for Pancasila at the Expense of Hardline Islamic Groups?

24 May 2017 Jarryd de Haan, Research Analyst, Indian Ocean Research Programme


Indonesian security minister Wiranto announced on 8 May that the government has moved to ban the hardline Islamic group Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) on the grounds that the group’s activities go against Indonesia’s national philosophy of Pancasila. The group, which is an Indonesian branch of Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation), has denied being anti-Pancasila. The announcement comes with various calls to crack down on anti-Pancasila groups from Interior Minister Tjahjo Kumolo, Nahdlatul Ulama and the Jaringan Ulama Muda Nusantara (Young Islamic Preachers’ Network of the Archipelago). According to Adam Harvey, the Indonesian correspondent for ABC, when asked about Front Pembela Islam (Islamic Defenders Front – FPI), Wiranto responded, ‘The others will be studied. Don’t be in a rush. One at a time.’


The move to ban HTI came after instructions from Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to ‘Review all mass organisations to identify those with values that contradict the Pancasila, or the unity of the state’. Pancasila (which translates to ‘five principles’) is the official Indonesian philosophy based on the five principles of: belief in one God, just and civilised humanity, the unity of Indonesia, democracy based on wisdom, and social justice for all Indonesians. According to Wiranto, HTI breached the third principle of Pancasila, ‘The activities of the group have also collided with the public, thus poses a threat to the unity of the republic. For this reason, the government has decided to ban the HTI.’ Additionally, HTI has openly criticised Pancasila in the past and suggested its abolition  as a necessary prerequisite for the implementation of the Khilafah (Caliphate) and Sharia law.

The ban can be seen as a small blow to hardline Islamic groups following their resounding victory in taking down Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama during the Jakarta elections and their success in seeing him sentenced to two years in jail for blasphemy. There have also been additional developments which may indicate a general push against ultra-conservative Islamic groups. Said Aqil Siradj, the chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama (the world’s largest Islamic organisation, which is based in Indonesia), spoke at a public meeting on 18 May and called for a strengthening of secular values in Indonesia. FPI leader Muhammad Rizieq Shihab is currently hiding in Saudi Arabia after being summoned by police in Jakarta for questioning over a pornography case, which went viral after evidence circulated on Indonesian social media. Perhaps the most significant indication that the Indonesian Government wants to take action is Jokowi’s use of strong language. Speaking at the State Palace, Jokowi told chief editors that he will gebuk (“clobber”) those who seek to threaten Pancasila or the constitution. According to prominent political commentator Effendi Ghazali, this is only the second time that gebuk has been uttered in Indonesian politics.

While Jokowi has already taken a firm stance against HTI, it seems unlikely that other Islamic groups such as the FPI are under threat for now. Generally, most organisations are careful to respect Pancasila and avoid publicly denouncing the principles even though some more conservative groups may see Pancasila as too secular and a watering down of Islamic principles. FPI in particular, has not been openly anti-Pancasila but, instead, criticises government laws that it sees as too secular and encourages those that perceived to be in line with Sharia. There has, however, been a push earlier this year to revise the definition of anti-Pancasila under the Mass Organisation law to include groups that are disruptive to public order. If implemented, the new laws could threaten FPI in the future and restrict its activities because organising mass protests that target an ally of the Indonesian president could well be seen as harmful to public order.

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