President Jokowi Widodo’s cancellation of a presidential decree on alcohol investment underscores a long-running contestation between the powers of the state and sharia law.
After getting massive protests from the public, President Jokowi Widodo cancelled his own decree on investment in the business of alcoholic drinks. The cancellation was made in the face of strong opposition from Muslim scholars and organisations. The presidential decree sought to legalise investments in alcoholic drinks in select areas such as Bali, Nusa Tenggara Timur, Sulawesi Utara and Papua. This issue is thus seen as an ongoing contestation between the state law and sharia.
Despite the presidential decree clearly specifying that only non-Muslim majority provinces are allowed to become investment sites for alcoholic beverages, it did not stop protests and critical responses from various groups, especially from the Muslim community. Two of the country’s largest Muslim organisations, Nadlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah stated their refusal to the decree. Said Aqil Siradj, General Chairman of PBNU (Pengurus Besar Nahdlatul Ulama, or the headquarters of NU) stated that Islam prohibits alcoholic drinks and the government should follow the instructions stated by religion to prevent the consumption of alcoholic drinks in the country. Despite having representation in the cabinet, NU strongly opposed the decree. Muhammadiyah stated that alcoholic drinks are clearly deemed as unlawful for Muslims and proposed that there should be other ways to get investments apart from alcoholic beverages. Similarly, the Council of Indonesian Ulama (MUI) also rejected the decree. Anwar Abbas, the Vice General Chairman of MUI, argued that the policy would generate exploitation of the state and human beings in exchange for business interests. This time, MUI and NU are on the same voice in rejecting the decree. The strength of the refutation becomes stronger because all political parties have also expressed their opposition to the decree. Although the decree is seen as a derivative of the Omnibus Law on Job Creation, the parties do not support the interpretation of the decree in this aspect. Finally, Vice President Ma’ruf Amin had also directly approached Jokowi to remove the investment clause on alcoholic drinks from the decree.
The issue of legalising alcoholic beverages business is not new in Indonesia. President Yudhoyono introduced Presidential Decree No.74/2013 on the Control and Supervision of Alcoholic Beverages in 2013, which allow the sale of certain alcoholic beverages (alcohol content of under 5 per cent) in retail shops. The decree was challenged by some Muslim groups, similar to the current situation in the Jokowi era. In the sharia, the prohibition of alcoholic drinks for Muslims is final. According to the Shafi’i doctrine, which is subscribed to by most Indonesian Muslims, consuming alcohol drinks of any degree has the legal status of being non-halal. This doctrine was officially used in MUI fatwa, which stated that any products that have 1 per cent alcohol (or more) content should be prohibited.
… the decision to remove the alcoholic drinks business from the decree is another indication that the implementation of the sharia in politics remains a high possibility in Indonesia.
Prior to the Jokowi era, there were two definitions on alcohol beverages. The first definition was stated by the government who took the stand of regulating alcohol beverages strictly and not prohibiting their sales. Drinks with alcohol content above 20 per cent were strictly limited in distribution. The second definition was from the sharia and was widely promoted by MUI and other Muslim organisations. Their definition stated that all kinds of alcoholic drinks should be banned in Indonesia. Despite MUI having issued fatwa on the prohibition of alcoholic beverages, the fatwa on this matter was not included in state law until 2014. Therefore, President Yudhoyono was able to continue with the implementation of his presidential decree despite objections from Muslim organisations like the NU.
Jokowi’s presidential decree on investment of alcoholic beverages was introduced under different political circumstances from his predecessor. In 2014, Indonesia passed Law No. 33/2014 on Halal Product Assurance. This law states that halal investigation and certification for all products such as foods, drinks, cosmetics and medicines are compulsory. This law obligates non-halal producers to declare their products as non-halal before they can be sold to the public. Law No. 33/2014 did not mention the prohibition of selling non-halal items in Indonesia. It simply stated that the selling of non-halal products and having investments to produce such products remain lawful in this country. Seen from this perspective, the implementation of the appendix in Jokowi’s decree leveraged on the law’s inherent ambiguity. It can be interpreted as his way of indirectly endorsing non-halal businesses in Indonesia, which would be in contrast to the position of Muslim groups who are supportive of Law No. 33/2014 and the MUI fatwa.
From a legal point of view, Jokowi’s decree is applicable in the context of Indonesia’s legal system which is deemed to be non-theocratic. Jokowi’s stillborn decree is therefore not against the Constitution in legal terms. Matters that are prohibited by religion are not automatically prohibited by the state. This argument is critical in ending the long and dilemmatic tension between the implementation of the state law and sharia law in Indonesia. Even though President Jokowi has many reasons to push on with implementing the decree, he still has to accommodate the inclinations of Muslim scholars and mainstream Muslim organisations in his final decision. As such, the decision to remove the alcoholic drinks business from the decree is another indication that the implementation of the sharia in politics remains a high possibility in Indonesia. This is increasingly evident: in some laws and policies that are against the spirit of sharia, the reaction of the Muslim communities is obviously visible.
Syafiq Hasyim is a Visiting Fellow at ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore, and Lecturer and Director of Library and Culture at the Indonesian International Islamic University.