Jakarta. Indonesia is not a Muslim country and any efforts to turn it into one must be resisted, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said on Wednesday as he accepted an award for statesmanship.
Yudhoyono said that Sukarno, Indonesia’s founding president, had explicitly declared that Indonesia was a secular country and not an Islamic one, and that this basic tenet of the republic must be upheld.
“We have to protect this. My fear is that there are changes, pushes and thinking that tend toward turning this country into a non-secular one. Secularity is final, and this is an important legacy that we have inherited from Sukarno and the other founders of this republic,” Yudhoyono said at the Sukarno Center in Gianyar, Bali, where he was awarded the Sukarno Prize for championing humanity and democracy.
The president said he continued to study Sukarno’s teachings for insight into how to address Indonesia’s modern-day challenges.
“I don’t just respect what was done by this great leader, but also how his thoughts are still relevant in answering the questions we continue to face today,” Yudhoyono said.
The Sukarno Center awarded the prize to Yudhoyono for his “consistency in upholding the values” of Sukarno’s teachings. Yudhoyono’s decision to name Sukarno a national hero in 2012 was also cited as a factor, according to Sukmawati Soekarnoputri, one of the former president’s daughters and the chief patron of the Sukarno Center.
Previous recipients of the annual award have included the late anti-apartheid hero and former South African president Nelson Mandela, and Aung San Suu Kyi, the Myanmar pro-democracy icon.
The award is the latest that Yudhoyono has picked up as he winds down his presidency, but which has served to highlight the gulf between his purported civic achievements and the reality on the ground.
The president was widely lambasted last May when he went to New York to receive the world statesman of the year award from the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, a US interfaith organization.
Critics have long pointed out that under Yudhoyono’s watch, Islamic Shariah was introduced in the country, albeit only in Aceh province, while bylaws deemed discriminating against religious minorities and women have mushroomed throughout the country.
His administration has also been slammed for failing to act against local authorities in West Java who have shuttered churches in direct violation of Supreme Court rulings, and for allowing the continued persecution of Ahmadiyah and Shiite communities throughout the country.