Bye Bye, Bintang? Bali Braces for Proposed Indonesian Alcohol Ban
Image Credit: Flickr (Simon_sees)

Bye Bye, Bintang? Bali Braces for Proposed Indonesian Alcohol Ban

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Draft legislation that was submitted to the Indonesian Parliament earlier this year, seeking to ban the sale and consumption of alcohol, may be signed into law in 2014 – stoking fear in the tourist mecca of Bali that such a law would cripple the local economy.

The Bill for a Ban on Alcoholic Drinks, put forth by the conservative Islam-based United Development Party (PPP), would be applied nationwide. Proposed penalties for those found in violation of the law are severe.

“Those who produce alcoholic drinks would be subject to penalties of up to 10 years imprisonment and 10 billion rupiah ($900,000) in fines; there would be $500,000 in fines and five years in prison for those who distribute them, and two years’ imprisonment and a $20,000 fine for those who consume alcohol,” reported The Sydney Morning Herald (figures changed from AUD to USD).

The prohibition bill initially garnered widespread criticism, with the PPP promising to rewrite the blanket ban into more comprehensive regulations on the sale of alcoholic beverages. However, an updated version of it has yet to surface – with hardline Muslim groups threatening to push the original draft through Parliament as-is. The fact that 2014 is an election year complicates the issue.

“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,” said The New York Times. “Before the 2009 election, a similar dynamic led to the passage of a controversial morality law that outlaws art, movies and music that ‘can arouse sexual desires and/or violate public moral values.’”

The Times continued, “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.”

Indonesia’s Islamists won a major Supreme Court victory over the summer, overturning a 1997 presidential decree that blocked local governments from enforcing alcohol bans in their own communities. The Islamic Defender’s Front (FPI), an ultraconservative group that forced Lady Gaga to cancel a sold-out performance in Jakarta over threats of violence, was behind the ruling.

The FPI, which is classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, has gained notoriety in Indonesia for its strict enforcement of Sharia law. They are known for raiding bars and nightclubs, as well as attacking religious minorities and members of the LGBT community.

After the mid-June Supreme Court ruling, the FPI’s Jakarta leader told the AFP: “All Indonesian Muslims are overjoyed. The ruling has saved generations from the negative impact of alcohol.”

The AFP also reported that tax on alcohol sales reached 53 trillion rupiah ($4.8 billion) in 2012, with the tourism sector contributing 60 percent of that total. Tourism contributes 4.1 percent to Indonesia’s GDP – employing 6.9 percent of the nation’s workforce. More than 8 million tourists visited the country last year, with 3 million of them traveling to Bali.

“A total crackdown on booze would prove disastrous on Hindu-majority Bali's tourism economy and encounter corporate pushback from well-connected breweries,” said GlobalPost. “And it would likely drive more people to drink black-market booze, which sporadically makes the news after a bad batch leaves multiple people dead.”

One travel agent in Bali added that prohibition in Indonesia would ruin her chances of marketing the island as a vacation destination. “You would find [that tourists] would go elsewhere, like Thailand, if they couldn’t sit by a pool and have a drink,” she said.

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