‘I Am Still Learning the Constitution’: Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi

Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi admits that he is “still learning the Constitution.” (JG Photo/Afriadi Hikmal)

Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi admits that he is “still learning the Constitution.” (JG Photo/Afriadi Hikmal)

Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi on Tuesday completed a humiliating climbdown from comments made last week in which he said that an urban ward chief should be transferred on account of her religion.

“It’s alright,” Gamawan said at an event in East Jakarta to mark the anniversary of the failed September 30 coup. “I am still learning the Constitution.”

The minister was given a public dressing down by Jakarta Deputy Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama last week after he said Susan Jasmine Zulkifli should be reassigned as ward chief of Lenteng Agung. Susan had been the subject of a protest by a group of around 60 hard-line Islamists, who objected to her representing them because of her Christian faith.

“The governor didn’t do anything wrong or violate any law” Gamawan said on the Liputan6 news program on SCTV on Wednesday. “But it would be wiser if Susan were placed in a non-Muslim [community], so people’s aspirations can be fulfilled and the governor can still have Susan as an urban ward chief.”

Basuki responded by telling Gamawan that ward chiefs were evaluated based on their performance, not on their religious denomination, and told the minister that he needed to learn the Constitution.

The Home Affairs Minister of the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country apparently agrees that he does not know the law.

The task facing Gamawan is, by anyone’s estimates, sub-Herculean. The Indonesian Constitution runs to 37 Articles spread over some 4,770 words — a modest undertaking that is approximately 120 times shorter than “War and Peace,” 55 times less onerous than James Joyce’s “Ulysses” or 23 times more succinct than “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.”

“It’s a shame that someone has a position as high as he does,” Human Rights Watch researcher Andreas Harsono told the Jakarta Globe on Tuesday, “because his job is to learn the Constitution.”

Beneath the framework of the 1945 document, several bylaws have been enacted that rights groups and observers believe compromise the broad principles enshrined in the Constitution by the rule of law.

The National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) has asked Gamawan to review 282 bylaws that it deems discriminatory to women and minorities, but the Home Affairs Minister has agreed only to take a look at five of them, Harsono said.

Gamawan could find a clue as early as the very first article of the document, which reads “The State of Indonesia shall be a state based on the rule of law.”

If that were not sufficiently unambiguous, the matter should be cleared up in Article 28, Clause 1.

“The rights to life, freedom from torture, freedom of thought and conscience, freedom of religion, freedom from enslavement, recognition as a person before the law, and the right not to be tried under a law with retrospective effect are all human rights that cannot be limited under any circumstances,” it says.

Gamawan came under fire for his statements regarding Susan last week. The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) and human-rights group the Setara Institute have been unequivocal in their condemnation of his comments, saying they will only fuel religious intolerance.

The minister has since softened his stance on Susan and sought to distance himself from statements on Tuesday, deferring to Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo on the matter.

“You better ask the governor if he wants to evaluate [this issue] or not,” Gamawan said. “It is up to the governor.” JG

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