Indonesia said on Saturday the final of the Miss World pageant later this month would take place on Bali, a Hindu-majority island, instead of near the capital, after days of Muslim hardline protests.
The announcement is the latest sign in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation of fringe Muslim groups’ growing influence on authorities and their power to stymie events they deem un-Islamic.
Last year, pop sensation Lady Gaga axed a concert after a series of protests, where radicals dubbed her “the devil,” threatened to burn down the venue and criticized her for wearing only “a bra and panties.”
Although the Miss World organizers had already promised to replace the contest’s trademark bikinis with Balinese sarongs for its beach fashion segment, thousands took to the streets last week to denounce the decision to hold the contest in Indonesia.
On Friday, radicals burned the organizers in effigy and branded them “infidels.”
The contest opened in Bali yesterday and later rounds were due to take place in and around Jakarta, with the winner originally set to be crowned at a venue outside the capital on Sept. 28.
The government said all events would now be held on Bali, where hardline influence is almost non-existent and where the Balinese are used to hordes of foreign tourists sunbathing in skimpy swimwear.
“All the events will now be held at venues in Bali —- it will all be concentrated in Bali, until the closing,” Indonesian Coordinating Minister for People’s Welfare Agung Laksono told reporters in Jakarta on Saturday.
He said the government had “listened to what the people wanted.” The decision was taken in a meeting between Laksono, Indonesian Vice President Boediono and police and tourism ministry representatives.
His comments came after about 600 people joined protests on Saturday on Java, bringing along goats wearing Miss World sashes in Yogyakarta to ridicule the event, while students in Surabaya held banners reading: “We are ready to die for the Miss World contest to be scrapped.”
They join a human rights commissioner, government minister and mainstream Muslim groups who have all voiced their opposition to the event, many arguing it exploited women and was an export of Western hedonism.
About 90 percent of Indonesia’s population of 240 million people identify themselves as Muslim, and the vast majority practices a moderate form of Islam.
There was no immediate reaction from the organizers regarding the change of venue, but the British chairwoman of Miss World, Julia Morley, told reporters in Bali earlier on Saturday that the contest would respect the local culture.
“In keeping with respect for this country, all the girls were happy to work together,” she said. “We didn’t want to aggravate or hurt anyone.”
Contestants were photographed visiting Bali’s attractions, all wearing long-sleeved shirts or body-covering shawls.
The event will feature women from 129 countries, and has been touted by some authorities, including Bali Governor I Made Mangku Pastika, as free promotion for Indonesia’s tourism industry.