Saturday 27 May 2017

Indonesia could be set to ban consumption of alcohol - and jail drinkers

Two Islamic parties have proposed legislation to ban all consumption of alcoholic drinks and hand jail terms of up to two years to offenders in Indonesia, home to the world's largest Muslim population.

It was not clear how much parliamentary support the measure would gain, with one minister expressing concern about its possible impact on tourism.

A lawmaker for one of the parties said the bill, which could become law by the end of this year, was driven by health concerns, rather than ideology.

"This is not a religious or ideological issue," Abdul Hakim of the Prosperous Justice Party told Reuters. "This is purely for the protection of the children of the nation."

The bill aims to ban the sale, production, distribution and consumption of beverages with an alcohol content exceeding one percent, including local brews such as rice wine popular in many parts of the sprawling archipelago.

To become law it would have to be signed by President Joko Widodo, who has adopted a hard line against drug offenders since taking office last October.

The government has yet to discuss its position on the bill, but a senior minister warned a blanket ban could hurt tourism.

"We must not let the regulation be excessive because it could kill tourism potential," said Chief Economics Minister Sofyan Djalil. "For some people from the West, alcohol is a part of their lifestyle."

To protect tourism, the law envisages exemptions for five-star hotels and the resort island of Bali.

Indonesia, with a population of about 250m, has seen rapid growth in alcohol sales, such as the Bintang beer brand of PT Multi Bintang Indonesia Tbk, majority-owned by Heineken.

Diageo and Carlsberg also have a footprint in Indonesia.

Indonesia is Asia's 10th-largest beer consumer, with sales of the beverage having climbed 54 percent over the past decade.

"Of course I don't agree with it, why would you prohibit someone's hobby to drink? So after banning drinks, what else would they ban? Smoking?" said Diponagara, a 28-year-old worker at a non-government organisation in Jakarta.

However, a 2014 survey by market researcher Nielsen found that only 2.2 percent of Indonesians older than 20 had consumed alcohol in the previous year.

Many Muslims in Indonesia frown on alcohol consumption and vigilante groups sometimes attack bars, particularly at Ramadan.

A regulation banning the sale of alcoholic drinks at mini-markets takes effect on Thursday, but they will still be sold at supermarkets, hotels, bars and restaurants.

A complete ban would devastate the drinks industry and distribution businesses, and put up to 200,000 jobs at risk, Charles Poluan, executive director of the Indonesian Malt Beverage Producers Association, told Reuters.

"By next year, if it goes through this year, all the tourists won't think it fun anymore to go to Indonesia," he said. "What is ironic is that our neighbour Malaysia has sharia (Islamic) law, but they do not ban the selling of alcohol."

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