Jakarta – A top Indonesian military official has said that encouraging people not to vote in the upcoming general election is against the law, a local newspaper reported Tuesday.
The English-language Indonesia Times quoted Lt. Gen. Syarwan Hamid, chief of sociopolitical affairs at the Indonesian Armed Forces, as saying that he appreciates any efforts to encourage as many people as possible to vote.
However, he stressed that any attempt "to encourage people not to vote is against the law," according to the newspaper, which is controlled by the Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals Association chaired by Minister of Research and Technology Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie.
Syarwan's comments were reported following the release of a pre-Easter apostolic letter by the Indonesian Bishops' Conference, which tells Catholic believers that it is not a sin to refuse to vote in the May 29 general election.
"The Catholics should really feel free in expressing their attitude in the general election," said the statement, which was signed by Indonesian Cardinal Mgr. Julius Darmaatmadja and was read out in all Catholic churches in Indonesia two weeks ago.
To Indonesians who do not feel they are being represented, the statement said, "We can understand that you voice your responsibility and freedom by not voting. You are not sinning if you don't vote."
The statement, read on the Ash Wednesday mass Feb. 12, which opened a 40-day period of fasting for Catholics, also indicated that a number of riots in Indonesia have made the Catholic community in the country feel unsafe.
"We question whether in the future the freedom of religious activities, which we enjoy now, will still be ours," it said.
Ethnic-and religion-related riots have recently broken out in Indonesia, with Christians and people of Chinese descent becoming the target of rampages or killings, while some churches and Buddhist and Chinese temples were torched.