World

Jokowi: We need to safeguard diversity

Indonesian President calls for unity ahead of country's independence day

JAKARTA: Indonesia's president said yesterday that it has to pull together to meet the threat of extremism and safeguard a constitution that enshrines religious freedom and diversity.

In an address to Parliament ahead of independence day today, President Joko Widodo (popularly known as Jokowi) peppered his speeches with references to the need to address inequality in South-east Asia's biggest economy and tackle the threat of radicalism.

Indonesian police have tightened security ahead of the independence day holiday. On Tuesday they arrested five suspected Islamist militants and seized chemicals they said were being used to make bombs for attacks on the presidential palace.

Religious tension in Indonesia has soared since late last year after Islamist-led rallies saw Jakarta's then governor, a member of a so-called double minority who is ethnic Chinese and Christian, put on trial during city elections over claims he insulted the Quran.

"We want to work together not only in creating an equitable economy, but also in ideological, political, social and cultural development," said Mr Joko.

"In the field of ideology, we have to strengthen our national consensus in safeguarding Pancasila, the 1945 Constitution, the unity of the Republic of Indonesia and 'Bhinneka Tunggal Ika' (unity in diversity)," he said.

DIVERSITY

Pancasila is Indonesia's state ideology, which includes the belief in god, unity, social justice and democracy, and which enshrines religious diversity in an officially secular system.

But there are worries about growing intolerance undermining a tradition of moderate Islam in a country where Muslims form about 85 per cent of the population, alongside substantial Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and other minorities.

In April, then Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, an ally of Mr Joko, lost the bitterly fought city election to a Muslim rival and was later jailed for blasphemy, a sentence rights groups and international bodies condemned as unfair and politicised.

In a second speech, a state of the nation address, Mr Joko said his administration's focus this year was to ensure that the benefits from an average 5 per cent economic growth in the last few years should be felt by everybody.

Despite its growing middle class, inequality in Indonesia remains high. Indonesia's wealthiest 1 per cent control 49.3 per cent of its wealth, Credit Suisse said in a report issued last November, which placed Indonesia among countries with the most unequal distribution of wealth in the world.

The president touched on efforts to cut red tape and said that moves to certify land would be accelerated. Disputes over land ownership frequently hold up infrastructure projects.

"For 72 years we have been independent, but while other countries are looking at outer space, we in our beloved country have not finished land certification for our people," he said.- REUTERS

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