Markus Junianto Sihaloho, Jakarta – Christian lawmaker Rahayu Saraswati Djojohadikusumo has expressed disappointment with a decision by the speaker of the People's Consultative Assembly, or MPR, to disallow her from reading a prayer scheduled for the final meeting of the current term of the national legislature on Friday.
MPR Speaker Zulkifli Hasan ended his speech during the meeting by reading a prayer, which according to the program, Rahayu was supposed to perform. But Zulkifli said he did so for the sake of brevity.
Rahayu said she was looking forward to the prayer, as it would have marked the first time a woman and non-Muslim recited prayers in a plenary session of the national legislature.
"I worked on it and wrote this prayer until 2 a.m. to make sure it would express our hopes to the people's representatives for the future of Indonesia, which focuses on four basic tenets: Pancasila, the Unitary Republic of Indonesia, the 1945 Constitution and Bhinneka Tunggal Ika," she said, referring to the official state ideology, and the national motto of Indonesia, which translates to "Unity in Diversity."
However, the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) lawmaker said she was told in the morning that the speaker had objected to her reciting the prayer.
"I proposed that if he objected to me being a female, to then allow a Christian male legislative member to read the prayer I had prepared. But the reading was still removed from the lineup, which was actually an official part of the meeting," she said.
"My question to Mr. Zulkifli Hasan, whom I respect: Was it because I'm female, or because I'm a non-Muslim?" she added.
Rahayu said her faction decided to walk out of the meeting in protest.
"The prayer was an official part of the MPR session. I was so shocked and hurt by this treatment; the reality is, that in the highest state institution – which has a duty to be a bastion of national unity and to uphold the four basic tenets of the state – a representative of women and non-Muslims was denied the opportunity to read a prayer for our beloved nation and country," she said.
Zulkifli later issued a statement saying it was Gerindra that proposed Rahayu read the prayer, but that the MPR leadership decided he should do it instead.
He added that the plenary session was already running late, as many of the lawmakers had arrived late.
"That is our explanation. Hopefully, all parties can discuss this more rationally and with cool heads and not dismiss the context we have provided," he said.