Jakarta (AsiaNews) - With the election to the People's Representative Council (lower house) set for next Wednesday, Indonesia's Catholic bishops have issued an appeal against abstentionism, calling on the faithful to be guided by "ethical and moral values."
On the initiative of its president, Mgr Suharyo Ignatius, archbishop of Jakarta, and its general secretary, Mgr Johannes Pujasumarta, archbishop of Semarang, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Indonesia (KWI) published a pastoral letter urging Catholics to avoid dispersing their votes, and cast instead an "informed and intelligent" ballot.
In their statement to the faithful, the bishops urge Catholics around the country to assert their civil rights rather than giving in to the scepticism that is prevailing with regards to all levels of political life.
With two elections - parliamentary (9 April) and presidential (9 July) - scheduled, 2014 will be crucial for Indonesia's political, social and economic future. At the same time, many criticise the presence of "old faces" and hope for a real renewal of the political class.
The recent cases of corruption and wrongdoing involving politicians and government officials close to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his administration have exacerbated the gap between those in power and the people.
In view of this, the bishops want voters to take part in the process in a responsible manner. "Your vote is important," the letter says, "because those who will be elected in the general election will shape the future of the nation and will affect, among other things, its social and economic well-being." Hence, "assert your civil rights and participate in the country's political life in order to shape its future. Not voting simply means losing the opportunity of making it better."
In their pastoral letter, the bishops also laid out some guidelines for choosing the candidates, who should be open-minded, love their country, show political and moral probity and have no past involvement in corruption and abuse; be generous and friendly to other without ulterior motives, and be committed to Pancasila and pluralism, which are the principles of unity and openness laid down in the country's 1945 constitution.
Recently, Mgr Julianus Sunarko, bishop of Purwokerto, met dozens of Catholic candidates behind closed doors. In his meetings, he urged them to continue their work with honesty, rigour, and care for the most urgent problems of their fellow citizens.
Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim (Sunni) nation in the world (86 per cent Muslim). Although it upholds constitutional principles of basic personal freedoms (including religious freedom), it has increasingly become the scene of violence and abuse against minorities.
Christians represent 5.7 per cent of the population with Catholics just over 3 per cent. Hindus are 1.8 per cent and 3.4 per cent profess other religions.
The constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but Christians have suffered from acts of violence and abuse, especially where extremist versions of Islam, like in Aceh, are entrenched.