Indonesia 'to vet civil servants in bid to weed out radical Islamists'

Jokowi aims to ensure country stays model for moderate Islam

JAKARTA • Indonesia plans to tighten the vetting of senior public servants amid fears that hardline Islamist ideology has permeated high levels of government, according to documents seen by Reuters and a senior official involved in the plan.

Indonesia is officially secular, but there has been a rise in politicians demanding a larger role for Islam in the world's biggest Muslim-majority country, with some groups calling for an Islamic state.

The rise in conservatism was a major test for President Joko Widodo in the April election, with some Islamist groups accusing him of being anti-Islam and supporting his political rivals, including challenger Prabowo Subianto.

Mr Joko was re-elected for a second term but voting patterns revealed deepening divisions between areas known for a moderate following of Islam and conservative Muslim regions that backed Mr Prabowo.

The senior government official, who is part of a team formulating the new vetting policy, said Mr Joko intends it to be a part of his legacy of ensuring Indonesia remains a model for moderate Islam.

The official said the President strongly believes that radical Islam threatens the state apparatus as well as the future of democracy. The vetting plan was a big priority for him, said the official, who declined to be identified.

Mr Joko, popularly known as Jokowi, wants hardline and radical elements to be weeded out before the next election, in 2024, said the official. Mr Joko's office did not respond to requests for comment.

According to the documents seen by Reuters, the government wants to introduce stricter background checks and a new psychological test to gauge candidates' political leanings - especially for those seeking promotions to the top two rungs of the bureaucracy.

The official said the plan will be rolled out by the end of the year at 10 of the country's biggest ministries by budget and several state-owned enterprises.

Ministries to be targeted as priorities include finance, defence, health, education, religious affairs, and public works.

Priority enterprises include state energy company Pertamina, flag carrier Garuda Indonesia, the biggest state bank BRI, state miners Antam and Timah, and two state media companies.

Civil servants would not be sacked but the new policy could be used to keep those with hardline leanings from rising through the ranks, the official said.

"What we're seeing is not sudden but the result of seeds that were planted years ago through small movements that at the time were not considered a threat to the state. For over 10 years, these ideas have been tolerated, accepted, and perhaps even used by elements of the state," a government paper said.

The government official who spoke to Reuters is part of a team of 12 officials and experts that will work with the National Agency to Promote Pancasila and with civil society organisations to formulate new metrics to strengthen existing recruitment tests.

Pancasila, the country's official, foundational philosophical theory, includes upholding national unity, social justice and democracy alongside belief in God, and enshrines religious diversity in an officially secular system of government.

The official said the government is expecting a backlash both from within the state bureaucracy and from rights activists who could liken the moves to the authoritarian era of former president Suharto, when loyalty to the state ideology was mandatory and equated with loyalty to the regime.

A representative for the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), an Islamist group that calls for syariah law in Indonesia, said the planned vetting procedures would "amount to discrimination against Islam".

"This government is affected by the disease of secularism and is trying to separate politics and religion, which is very dangerous," said Mr Novel Bamukmin of the FPI's Jakarta chapter.

"They should be focusing on targeting the communists and Shi'ite (minority Muslims) in the bureaucracy instead," he added.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2019, with the headline Indonesia 'to vet civil servants in bid to weed out radical Islamists'. Subscribe