The party could soon be over in Bali

The sun sets on Kuta Beach, in Bali, Indonesia.
The sun sets on Kuta Beach, in Bali, Indonesia.

The party could soon be over in one of the world's most beer-fuelled tourism spots, the Indonesian island of Bali, under a new law that would ban the drinking of alcohol.

The proposed bill to outlaw the production, sale and consumption of alcohol across the whole of Indonesia carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years for violators.

If passed, it would crush the tourism sector, industry chiefs have warned.

"No matter how beautiful the country is, if they can't find alcohol, they [tourists] won't want to come here," said Hariyadi Sukamdani, the head of Indonesia's Hotel and Restaurant Association.

A ban would particularly damage the resort of Bali, one of Indonesia's 34 provinces.

The island's economy depends heavily on the four million foreign visitors who arrive every year, with many flocking to enjoy sunset cocktails and then party through the night at clubs in the buzzing tourist areas of Kuta and Seminyak.

Australians, the largest group of holidaymakers, have been up in arms about the news, with some threatening to boycott their favourite holiday resort if they can no longer sip a cool Bintang, the local beer.

Balinese musician, Rudolf Dethu, who leads two groups opposing the legislation, one of them to promote the culinary aspects of beer, agreed that the law would "kill" tourism in Bali. Even if the island secured an exemption, alcohol prices would become exorbitant, he said.

But Dethu also believes that the stakes are much higher, fearing like many others that the curb is a sign of creeping Islamisation in the sprawling island nation, where there has been a recent push to impose more extreme forms of sharia.

With a population of 260 million, Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim nation, but it is also home to several influential religious minorities.

The country's Government is struggling to reconcile the difference between Bali, predominantly Hindu and liberal, with conservative Muslim provinces like Aceh, where alcohol is viewed as a scourge on society, and drinkers can be caned.

"My concern has always been about pluralism and civil rights," Dethu told the Daily Telegraph.

"For me this is not as simple as banning alcohol. There is a hidden agenda behind it. It's a radicalisation," he said.

"It's about assaulting civil rights. Don't let the Parliament dictate to you what you can drink or the next time they will dictate what time your girlfriend can come to your house, and then what you can wear."

The current bill is being driven by two influential Muslim parties.

Their previous attempts to ban alcohol for religious reasons gained little support from Indonesia's secular Government, but this time they are pushing the law on health grounds, to protect the public from dozens of alcohol-related deaths each year.

While the statistics are correct, experts point out that these deaths were caused by illegally distilled or counterfeit alcohol, which can contain potentially lethal substances like methanol or even battery fluid.

Indonesians release baby turtles into the ocean in Bali, Indonesia. Photo / AP
Indonesians release baby turtles into the ocean in Bali, Indonesia. Photo / AP

According to the Centre for Indonesian Policy Studies (CIPS), there have been 453 deaths from tainted alcohol since 2012.

Among them have been several foreign tourists.

In 2013, British backpacker Cheznye Emmons, 23, first went blind, then died of organ failure after drinking poisonous methanol that had falsely been labelled as gin at a popular resort in Sumatra.

Her devastated family launched an awareness campaign to warn other unsuspecting travellers.

CIPS director, Rainer Heufers, said a countrywide ban would increase the dangers by forcing alcohol production underground, into the hands of criminal gangs.

"Right now, consumers have a choice. If a drink is suspiciously cheap then stay away from it. If everything is illegal then I can't even trust the expensive one so I have to be extremely careful."

- Daily Telegraph UK

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