The Constitutional Court’s recent ruling curtailing the central government’s authority to revoke regional bylaws may embolden local politicians to issue more religiously-inspired regulations that are often discriminatory against women and minority groups, human rights activists have said.
The ruling comes as Indonesia confronts a rising tide of religious conservatism, which appears to have encroached further into the nation’s political sphere.
With the rise of identity politics and the central government’s inability to revoke problematic bylaws, it is feared that local politicians may now have a greater incentive and greater freedom to enact religiously-tinted regulations to boost their popularity.
A 2015 survey conducted by the Center for the Study of Islam and Society (PPIM) found that base political considerations were primarily responsible for the implementation of sharia-based laws, with local politicians bowing to demands from conservative Muslim groups in exchange for votes during elections. It found that most of the sharia-inspired bylaws that the study reviewed in Jakarta, Banten and West Java were passed during a local election campaign season.
“It is possible that the ruling may also lead to a more excessive implementation of the existing discriminatory bylaws,” Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR) executive director Supriyadi Widodo Eddyono said.
Supriyadi argued that local governments would most likely ignore the central government’s recommendations after the court’s ruling.
He took as an example the Aceh administration’s refusal to amend its Islamic criminal code bylaw, or Qanun Jinayat. The Home Ministry said in a letter sent to the Aceh government and the Aceh Provincial Legislative Council in 2014 that some of the laws in Qanun contradicted national laws.
But since the Aceh Governance Law said Qanun could only be repealed by a Supreme Court ruling, not the Home Ministry, the Aceh administration has never responded to the ministry’s letter, he said.
The Constitutional Court on Wednesday ruled in favor of the Indonesian Regency Administrations Association (Apkasi), 45 regencies nationwide and one individual, who submitted a request for a judicial review of the 2014 Regional Administration Law.
In its decision, the Constitutional Court annulled four provisions in Article 251, Paragraphs 2, 3, 4 and 8 of the law. These provisions principally allowed the central government to scrap problematic bylaws.
That said, a bylaw revocation can now only be filed to the Supreme Court, which is responsible for examining judicial reviews of regulations from a lower level than national law, such as bylaws, as outlined in the Constitution.
National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) chairman Azriana lamented the court’s ruling.
“The mechanism to scrap bylaws issued by the Home Ministry, if implemented effectively, is actually the most effective way to get rid of hundreds of discriminative bylaws across the country,” Azriana said.
Data from Komnas Perempuan reveals that from 2009 up to August 2016, a total of 421 discriminatory bylaws were issued by local governments, including those that regulate morality and restrict women’s control of their own bodies.