06/15/2006, 00.00
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Sharia-inspired laws: Jakarta passes the buck to local authorities

After an appeal by 56 parliamentarians calling on the president to revoke local laws inspired by Islamic law, home affairs minister gives the country's 33 governors a first crack at deciding whether they are unconstitutional or not.

Jakarta (AsiaNews/JP) – Calls for the central government to scrap Sharia-inspired ordinances and bylaws adopted in many of the nation's regencies (districts) and cities have rejected. Home Affairs Minister Muhammad Ma'ruf said he would first let the country's 33 governors decide.

This comes after 56 parliamentarians signed a petition last Tuesday asking President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono disallow such directives, which they consider a danger to the unity of the country. Their initiative comes in the midst of growing fears that Indonesia, the largest Muslim nation in the world, is undergoing creeping Islamisation.

The central government does not however seem unduly alarmed. Mr Ma'ruf explained his decision saying that it should be up to local authorities to decide whether the allegedly faulty ordinances and bylaws contradict the Constitution or not. Should any of them be found wanting in this regard, the central government would take up the matter for further discussion.

Any bylaw judged unconstitutional or in violation of the five basic principles of the state Pancasila ideology would be revoked, Ma'ruf promised.

Under the 2004 Regional Government Law, the Home Affairs Ministry has the power to scrap any local regulations judged to be in violation of provincial or state laws. It also gives the ministry the authority to prevent local governments from passing laws it judges controversial.

Furthermore, anyone who wants to challenge the validity of local ordinances can go to the Supreme Court for a judicial review.

Since the implementation of regional autonomy, 22 regencies and municipal governments have adopted Sharia-inspired rules and regulations. Under their terms, behaviour deemed contrary to Islamic law such as adultery, prostitution, gambling and alcohol consumption has been criminalised. Women's rights have also been restricted.

Many Muslim intellectuals have joined those who are calling for the repeal of these ordinances and bylaws.

According to Muslim scholar Muhammad Syafii Ma'arif, Jakarta should not hesitate to revoke religiously motivated ordinances. In his view, "the implementation of such regulations will only create divisions in society".

For his part, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Widodo Adisucipto announced that the government was planning to review all of the nation's controversial ordinances and bylaws.

The minister explained that more than 85 per cent of local ordinances were rife with inconsistencies and were stifling investment in the country.

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