Indonesia’s State Ideology Bill: A Brewing Controversy

A bill setting out to interpret the Panca Sila, a set of five principles enshrined in the Indonesian Constitution, has come under attack. Conservative elements argue that the bill has framed Panca Sila in an entirely secular manner.

A Pancasila monument in Tuban, Indonesia, June 2010. The recent “Pancasila Guidelines Bill” sets out to interpret the set of five principles attached to the Indonesian constitution, but has come under attack from major religious organisations. (Photo: Anton Muhajir, Flickr)

Max Lane

4 August 2020

Since June, a controversy has erupted over the “Pancasila Guidelines Bill” (RUU HIP, Haluan Ideologi Pancasila) now being discussed in parliament. This Bill sets out to interpret the Panca Sila, a set of five principles attached to the Indonesian constitution. The five principles are often summarised to be: belief in one God, humanity, national unity, deliberative democracy, and social justice. Since Independence in 1945 there has been an ongoing struggle as how they are to be interpreted.

The Bill came under attack from major religious organisations – the Muhammadiyah, Nahdlatul Ulama and the Majelis Ulama Indonesia as well as the Islamic based political party, the Justice and Welfare Party (PKS). On 24 June, the more conservative Islamic PA 212, FPI and allies organised a rally of a few thousand people against the RUU HIP in Jakarta. The attacks on the Bill was multi-pronged. The more moderate mainstream organisations raised concerns that the Bill’s interpretation of Panca Sila negated the Sila regarding Belief in One God. The more conservative organisations attacked the Bill for representing the ideology of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), also more generally formulated as “liberalism” and “communism.” In the view of these groups, the two concepts are always paired together.

The offending parts of the Bill were clauses attempting to distil the essence of Panca Sila. The five principles are distilled down to three, the “Trisila”: socio-nationalism, socio-democracy, and cultured belief in God. These are then distilled down to one, the “Ekasila”: gotong-royong, or mutual cooperation.

This Trisila-Ekasila distillation was first put forward by Sukarno on 1 June 1945. In the current context, it poses a challenge to current ideological hegemony across the Indonesian elite. First, the distillation down to gotong royong frames the Panca Sila in an entirely secular manner. Since the New Order, religion has been integrated into mainstream ideology. All parliamentary parties make mention of religion in their ideology.

Until 1965, a socialist orientation – social democratic, left nationalist, communist or Islamic – was widely shared in Indonesia. Using the idea of gotong-royong was how Sukarno popularised socialism. Such an ideological orientation is alien to the current atmosphere and was bound to attract hostility, and especially from the most conservative forces. Suspicion around the revival of socialism was reflected in conservative critics questioning why the ban on Marxism Leninism wasn’t mentioned in the Bill.

Using the idea of gotong-royong was how Sukarno popularised socialism. Such an ideological orientation is alien to the current atmosphere and was bound to attract hostility, and especially from the most conservative forces.

A third aspect relates to contemporary politics. Sukarnoist socialist thinking is hardly present in Indonesian society, certainly not as an organised force. However, a social justice style gotong royong sentiment is strong among activist civil society – the social opposition comprising non-government organisations, feminist networks, trade unions, environmental groups and student activists. This varied milieu advocates both stricter social justice and environmental oriented restrictions on business and government activity as well as the liberalisation regarding religious beliefs, human rights, women’s and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights, among others. It is this unique combination which provides the basis for the most conservative groups to pair communism and liberalism together.

The Bill’s main sponsor was the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle’s (PDIP) Megawati Sukarnoputri. As the PDIP Chairperson, she holds a senior position in the Agency for Pancasila Ideology Education (BPIP) established under President Widodo, and may have wished that the BPIP have a legislative basis. However, it is not clear that the top levels of the PDIP were involved with the intricate details of the Bill. While there were burnings of PDIP flags in a few towns by some opponents, conservative ire seems to have focussed on two PDIP members of parliament in particular.

Initially, Ribka Tjiptaning Proletariyati, often attacked by conservative groups for writing the book “I am Proud to be a PKI Child,” was said to be responsible by being in charge of the Bill’s oversight committee. This was not true. PDIP MP, Rieke Diah Pitaloka, was the chair. She also came under attack. Rieke was removed as the chair, although PDIP officials denied that this was due to any connection with opposition to the Bill. Significantly, these two MPs were well known to be close to activist civil society. Ribka was an independent minded and militant anti-Suharto activist. Under Joko Widodo, she has remained a sharp critic of government on health policy. Rieke had a high profile role in trade union mass protests demanding social reforms and has been involved in activism around women’s rights.

The PDIP and the government have withdrawn the Bill and replaced it with the Bill on the Agency for Pancasila Ideology Education (RUU BPIP). This new Bill removes the references to Trisila and Ekasila and makes no attempt to distil Pancasila. It does recognise the 1966 Peoples’ Consultative Assembly Decree banning the spreading of Marxism Leninism. Despite the changes, the new Bill is still being criticised by political Islamic groups as well as civil society. Although having different specific concerns, both are worried about a government potentially having the power to define the specifics of a state ideology and as a result insist on its compliance.

Dr Max Lane is Visiting Senior Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, and Honorary Visiting Lecturer in the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Gajah Mada University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

ISEAS Commentary — 2020/111

The facts and views expressed are solely that of the author/authors and do not necessarily reflect that of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission.