Indonesia mulls alcohol ban


Indonesia’s hardline Islamist political parties have proposed a bill to parliament that will ban alcohol sale and consumption in the southeast Asia archipelago.

The United Development Party (PPP) and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) are some of the parties behind the push to ban the manufacture, sale and consumption of alcohol in the country. They say they are not doing it for religious or ideological reasons, but purely to protect the life of Indonesian children.

Opponents of the bill which includes the tourism industry warn that prohibition would destroy the industry that serves 10 million tourists yearly.

If the bill is passed, our business will be done,” said Hariyadi Sukamdani, head of Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association, to the Jakarta Post.

No matter how beautiful the country is, if foreign tourists can’t find alcohol, they won’t come here,” he warned.

The alcohol beverage industry in Indonesia is said to be worth between $435m – $600m and imposing a ban would essentially shut down companies that produce beer, spirits and cider and closing three wineries in Bali, a tourist resort. Alcohol sales also contribute an even greater amount into the state’s coffers each year in the form of taxes. According to Charles Poluan, Executive Director of the Indonesia Malt Beverage Producers Association, a ban will destroy the industry and put 2,000 people out of work and 200,000 more indirectly who are involved in the sale of alcoholic beverages only. The largest of the company that produce alcohol in the country is Multi Bintang Indonesia, a Heineken company, which produces the Bintang Lager, a very popular and national beer. The company which has been in operation since 1931, when the country was still under Dutch rule had net sales of $220m last year and a market capitalization of more than $1 billion. In the last two years, it has invested $50m in upgrading and expanding its operations, all of which would be at risk if the proponents of a ban get their way.

Beer accounts for 90% of the alcohol sold in Indonesia.

Alcohol prohibition has been proposed in Indonesia in the past by the same Islamic political parties that are pushing for the current bill but it barley got any traction in the country’s multi-faith society. While Indonesia is a mostly Muslim country, it has a secular government that protects other minority religions (Christians, Buddhists and Hindus). The Island of Bali, a tourist resort is inhabited mostly by Hindus.

The bill before the country’s parliament would ban the production, distribution, sale, consumption and possession of alcoholic beverages among Indonesians and foreign tourists alike. Violators could face up to 10 years in prison.

The Islamist political parties behind the bill say alcohol should be banned for health reasons, not religious reasons. Opponents of the bill say that the Islamist party’s concern for Indonesian children’s health is merely a cover toward becoming an Islamic state under Shariah law. What has opponents of the bill most worried is a passive response to the legislation by Indonesia’s secular parties, which could have stopped it months ago. They add that the bill is unlikely to pass, but its debate could unleash a hardline Islamist response to pass prohibition laws in some of the provinces.

President Joko Widodo’s governing coalition in parliament, which holds a majority is against the ban. Instead, he has proposed regulation that would include mandatory licensing for stores that sell alcohol and identification checks for buyers.

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