Parties in Indonesia: Alcohol soon illegal in tourism regions like Bali?

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Tourism to Indonesia is big business and a major currency earner for the largest Muslim country on the globe.

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Tourism to Indonesia is big business and a major currency earner for the largest Muslim country on the globe.

Parties in Bali and of course alcohol is a major draw for tourism into the Hindu part of Indonesia.

How would tourism to Indonesia look with alcohol being illegal?

A draft bill submitted to Indonesia’s Parliament earlier this year that called for a ban on alcohol in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country has stirred unease among the country’s predominantly moderate Muslims and fear among those who make their living in tourism, from upscale hotels in the capital, Jakarta, to beach bars and theme restaurants on the resort island of Bali.

After an initial backlash, the Islamic-based United Development Party, or P.P.P., which drafted the measure, said it would scale back its goals and instead seek comprehensive regulations on the sale of alcohol.

But the party has not yet released a new version of the bill, and conservative Muslim groups said they would lobby hard for the tougher legislation during an expected debate in Parliament in the coming weeks.

That has kept alive fears that, even in a country that has a long tradition of moderate Islam and is led by a secular government, a ban on alcohol could pass. Critics of a ban note a possible wild card: with elections scheduled for next year, legislators might be willing to back prohibition to appeal to conservative Islamic voters.

Before the 2009 election, a similar dynamic led to the passage of a controversial (and now lightly enforced) morality law that outlaws art, movies and music that “can arouse sexual desires and/or violate public moral values.” And last month, the government ordered that the finals of the Miss World pageant, which some Islamic groups denounced as immoral, be moved from the outskirts of Jakarta to predominantly Hindu Bali.

Nyoman Suwidjana, the secretary general of the Bali Tourism Board, said that criminalizing alcohol would have “a significant impact” on the economy of Bali, which is heavily dependent on the tourism industry and drew a record 2.9 million visitors in 2012.

“It’s not conceivable for one party to impose their values on others,” he said, noting that, in addition to foreign tourists, minority populations of Christians, Balinese Hindus and Buddhists in India do not consider alcohol taboo. “Could you imagine tourists sneaking in their own alcohol, just to have a good time?”

The draft bill was quietly submitted to Parliament in January by the P.P.P., whose platform includes banning alcohol.

“It’s the aspiration of many regions, due to criminality, and health and social problems because of alcohol,” said Ahmad Yani, a P.P.P. lawmaker, who denied in an interview that the bill was related to the 2014 election season.

No matter what happens with the legislation, Indonesia’s Islamic-led prohibition movement, which dates back decades, got a boost in July when the country’s Supreme Court announced it had overturned a 1997 presidential decree making it illegal for local governments to outlaw the production, sale or consumption of alcohol. The ruling upheld a challenge by the Islamic Defenders Front, a vigilante group known for occasionally smashing up bars that it views as affronts to Islam and forcibly closing Christian churches and the mosques of Muslim minorities.

In 2006, the Islamic Defenders Front brought a legal complaint against the Indonesian edition of Playboy magazine, whose editor was later sentenced to prison for “public indecency,” even though the magazine did not show nudity. (The Supreme Court overturned that decision eight months later.) The Islamic Defenders Front and other hardline groups also forced the cancellation of a Lady Gaga concert scheduled for Jakarta in 2012.

“They use sensitive issues such as Lady Gaga or alcohol to consolidate themselves,” said Fajar Riza Ul Haq, executive director of the Maarif Institute, a nongovernmental organization that promotes religious tolerance.

“These things are a very good opportunity for them to get publicity, and hopefully gain public support for what they do,” he said. Novel Haidar, secretary of the Jakarta chapter of the Islamic Defenders Front, said the prohibition drive was no publicity stunt, but a part of the group’s goal to turn Indonesia into an Islamic state.

Alcohol brings more disadvantages than advantages,” Mr. Novel said in an interview. “Bali has other income than from just selling alcohol — beautiful attractions and wonderful hotels and resorts. Not having alcohol would make it better.”

Nick Ryan, a 38-year-old electrician from Gold Coast, Australia, flatly disagreed. Sitting at the Sunset Bar at Legian Beach, in southern Bali, with a Bintang beer within reach, he grimaced when told of efforts to ban alcohol across Indonesia. “I’d never come here again,” he said.

His wife, Kym, 38, a travel agent, said she would find it difficult to explain to her clients that they could spend money for a flight and hotel room, but not have a glass of wine with dinner. “You would find they would go elsewhere, like Thailand, if they couldn’t sit by a pool and have a drink,” she said.

Lying on the beach, Anna Duron, 35, a tourist from France, compared banning alcohol in Indonesia to “shooting yourself in the foot.”

“Why would they want to do that?” she said. “Is there a real social issue behind it?”

“What I love about Indonesia is that it makes space for Islam, but it’s also open to other religions,” she said.

Alessandro Migliore, chairman of the Bali Hotels Association, said he could not imagine the effect on Bali if an alcohol ban were passed.

“Most Indonesians do not agree with these groups behind it, but the silent majority just keeps silent,” he said.

Mr. Novel, of the Islamic Defenders Front, said that while his organization would monitor what bill emerged within Parliament, it was not focusing on a national ban because the Supreme Court’s recent ruling allows thousands of local governments to ban alcohol on their own.

“Around 351 Indonesian districts, subdistricts, towns and villages had already passed regulations against alcohol in the past 15 years, and the Supreme Court ruling” removing the ban on such regulations “makes them all legal now,” he said. “So now we’re going to enforce it within those 351 areas by conducting sweeps, as well as try to lobby local administrations in every province and district in Indonesia to ban alcohol.”

The Islamic Defenders Front, however, might have a fight on its hands in the Bali district of Badung, the site of Legian Beach and where 80 percent of the island’s foreign tourists stay.

One Indonesian bartender, who did not want to give his name, said the Balinese people remained angry about terrorist bombings on the island in 2002 and 2005 by Islamic militants from Java and would resist any attempt by Java-based Muslim groups to ban alcohol on Bali, given its dependence on tourism.

“We’re not a Muslim country, and we have 240 million people, not just these people,” he said angrily. “It’s a crazy idea. They should crawl back into the ocean, man.”

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Editor in chief is Linda Hohnholz.