ASIA/INDONESIA - Indonesia votes in general elections: “It is fundamental that politics and religion are separate” local Catholic Bishop told Fides

Monday, 5 April 2004

Jakarta (Fides Service) - Elections in Indonesia start today. The vote in the populous country 145 eligible voters out of a population of 210 million will last until the Summer, July 5 when there will be the first round of presidential elections. This will be the first time that the president is elected by the people. If no candidate wins a relative majority there will be a second round on 20 September.
In view of the vote the Catholic Bishops of Indonesia issued a message to the people urging them to choose candidates whose programme is based on promoting transparency, honesty, tolerance, harmony and the common good.
Bishop Martinus Situmorang, Bishop of Padang, Sumatra, a member of the standing council of the Conference of Indonesian Bishops told Fides about the situation on the eve of the vote: “The good of the nation must be a priority. Group and individual interests must be put aside. For the people the elections are an opportunity to look not only at the parties but at their members, as envisaged by the new electoral system.”
The Bishop said: “The elections this year are also a chance for civil education which the Church has also undertaken. And today we can say the people are more aware of the importance of the vote”.
Among the more important national issues Bishop Situmorang mentions the need to “vote parties which are not based on religion and which do not mix religious belief with politics but focus on common values for the good of the whole people irrespective of religious beliefs. With a nation-wide campaign at the local Church level we stressed the importance of secular politics working for the good of individuals and the nation”.
It is important to “elect politicians who are honest and who work for national unity and harmony particularly in turbulent areas like Aceh, Papua, Moluccas”.
The Bishop said “there seems to be no great worry that Islamic fundamentalist parties will gain many votes. The two large Muslim associations Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiya are helping to keep the political competition along the lines of tolerance”.
So far none of the political parties have begun manipulating the Islamic faith of the majority of the people and this is a positive note which it is hoped will continue.
(PA) (Agenzia Fides 5/4/2004 lines 42 words 418)