Hurdles loom for alcohol prohibition bill in Indonesia

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The controversial alcohol prohibition bill is back in lawmakers’ deliberation agenda although the bill has forced breweries to postpone their expansion plan.

Indonesia’s House of Representatives is likely to miss the deadline for wrapping up its deliberation of the alcohol prohibition bill this year as lawmakers are caught up in fierce discussion on the scope of the proposed regulation and its potential impact on businesses and the general public.

After a two-week break, lawmakers are back in Jakarta this week to start their third sitting period for the year, during which they will continue deliberating dozens of priority bills from the 2016 National Legislation Program (Prolegnas), including the controversial alcohol prohibition bill.

The bill, sponsored by Islamist-oriented parties the United Development Party (PPP) and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), has returned to the table after all 10 party factions agreed last year to continue its deliberation.

The bill, reminiscent of US prohibition efforts in the 1920s, would outlaw the production, distribution and sale of beverages of more than 1 per cent alcohol content.

The bill has sparked widespread debate, including protests from alcoholic beverage producers, tourist industry players and local community leaders, who argue that the prohibition would drive tourists away and debase local traditions.

Despite being the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, Indonesia has a number of local traditions and rituals that involve the consumption of alcohol, including some in East Nusa Tenggara and on the resort island of Bali.

PPP lawmaker Mohammad Arwani Thomafi, who leads the House’s special committee for deliberating the bill, said lawmakers were still divided over the substance of the bill.

“There are parties that highlight the importance of a prohibition [and] there are parties that say alcohol consumption should be allowed with some exceptions, for example, students, or within school [grounds],” he said on Monday.

The fierce debate on the scope of the proposed prohibition is likely to end up at some sort of compromise, Arwani said.

“It is likely that the bill will allow the production of [alcoholic beverages] with very detailed limitations,” he said.

Earlier this week, publicly listed beer manufacturer PT Delta Djakarta, local producer of big beer brands including Anker, Carlsberg and San Miguel, expressed anxiety over the anticipated approval of the bill, saying that the move was likely to hamper its sales as it comes off a slow recovery after a rough 2015.

PT Multi Bintang Indonesia, the country’s largest brewery and maker of the world-renowned Bintang Beer, has put a break on expansion plans because of uncertainty created by the bill.

Before being taken to a plenary meeting to receive final approval and get passed into law, a bill must be scrutinised by lawmakers in House’s commissions or in a special committee set up to deliberate it.

Nationalist parties, like the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the Golkar Party and the Gerindra Party, have not shown any particular resistance to the alcohol prohibition bill.

Speaking to The Jakarta Post on Wednesday (May 18), Gerindra lawmaker Aryo Djojohadikusumo, a member of the special committee for this bill, admitted that the discussion was a “tough” one.

The committee, for example, is still debating whether to drop the name of the bill and change it to “the alcohol control and supervision bill”.

“The word ‘prohibition’ is not in accordance with our Constitution,” he said, arguing that if the current bill were passed into law it would be annulled by the Constitutional Court.