Pre-pandemic Bali had much to offer those in search of a traveller-friendly tropical paradise: superb surf, stunning sunsets and a laid-back lifestyle, all washed down with an Aussie-cold Bintang on the beach. But perhaps that’s a past that has no future.
On November 10, Indonesia’s House of Representatives resumed deliberation of a controversial alcohol prohibition bill, reports The Jakarta Post. First proposed in 2015, if it were to pass, “the bill as it currently stands would impose a nearly nationwide ban on the production, distribution and consumption of drinks with an alcohol content from 1 to 55 per cent”. Anyone caught consuming booze would face up to three years in prison and a fine of 50 million rupiah (US$3,543). Now, that’s an expensive bar tab.
The Antipodean media was expectedly outraged, equating all 17,000 islands of the Muslim-majority country with its beloved Bali and pondering what an alcohol ban might mean for any post-pandemic visits to the Island of the Gods.
“Australian tourists could be thrown in hellhole Bali JAILS for just a sip of Bintang under shock new alcohol bans being debated in Indonesian parliament,” shrieked the Daily Mail Australia (emphasis theirs) in response to the news. The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) took a slightly more sober approach, suggesting that it “would scare off Aussie tourists and stop a post-coronavirus economic recovery dead in its tracks”.
The bill’s resumption was put forward by 18 lawmakers from the Islam-based United Development Party (PPP), two from the Islamist Prosperous Justice Party and one from the nationalist Gerindra party, the aim being to protect the public “from the negative consequences of alcohol consumption”. It should be noted that Indonesia is a largely abstemious nation – in 2018, The Jakarta Post called it “the most sober country in Southeast Asia”, based on the findings from a World Bank report.
Even though five out of six of Indonesia’s recognised religions do not explicitly prohibit the consumption of booze, on average, each Indonesian drinks 0.6 litres of pure alcohol in a year, according to the study. “Drinking is not in our culture,” one Jakarta resident told the newspaper. “Even the majority of non-Muslims in Indonesia do not drink beer or wine.”
By contrast, Australians and Chinese, who were among the top five source markets for nationwide arrivals in 2019, and the top two for Bali, consume 10.6 and 7.2 litres of pure alcohol per year, respectively. (And we’re assuming that the World Bank excluded any alcohol consumed while on carefree holidays in its data.)
Could the passing of this bill be the last call for Bali as a desirable destination?
Before anyone seeks solace at the bottom of a bottle, perhaps it might be found in article 8 of the bill, which proposes several exceptions: traditional rituals, religious ceremonies, tourism, pharmaceutical products and in establishments with special permits. As the SMH points out, “how these permits would work and who would qualify has not been decided”, but neither has the law been passed.
A proposed penal code that sought to outlaw extramarital sex was last year postponed after petitions, protests and bad press. Teetotalism could go the same way if international media attention has anything to do with it.
Nevertheless, even talk of prohibition has tourism officials worried. Ricky Putra, chairman of the Bali Hotel Association, told the SMH: “We are currently already struggling with the pandemic. How will we get people to come when our border reopens? How are we supposed to revive tourism in Bali, or in Indonesia? Not only international tourists but also domestic tourists will think why should they go to Bali for a holiday when they can’t even enjoy a bottle of beer?”
PPP lawmaker Illiza Sa’aduddin Djamal sought to alleviate concerns, countering that the “proposed law is not blindly banning alcohol” and promising that there would be “discussions [to talk about] what can be agreed on”.
And while we’re sure those discussions will be dry, we’re not certain that Indonesia will be when it reopens to international visitors.