Contestants from around the globe have begun arriving in Bali for the Miss World pageant, to be held over the course of the month with the finale scheduled for September 28th. It is the first time Miss World is being held in Southeast Asia.
Bali is the site for the contest's initial week of events. Subsequent stages of the contest will be held in Yogyakarta and Jakarta, and the winner will be crowned at the capital's Sentul International Convention Centre.
While many look forward to the contest and the publicity it will bring, the reaction from religious conservatives has been less welcoming.
Ahead of the event, hardline groups such as the Islamic Defenders' Front (FPI) and Muslimah Hizbut Tahir (HTI) have been staging angry protests, demanding that Jakarta step in to have it called off.
Nawang Ratri Anggraini, the HTI's co-ordinator in Solo, Central Java, said the Miss World pageant shows the shape of the female body and is an insult to Muslims.
"Therefore, we urge the government to revoke (the pageant’s) licence in Indonesia," he told Khabar Southeast Asia on August 28th.
Responding to Muslim concerns, the pageant organisers decided to eliminate the bikini swimsuit content typically held as part of the pageant. It will be replaced by an event showcasing "Balinese beach fabric".
Officials in Bali, where an estimated 84.5% of the population are Hindus, have defended plans to go ahead with Miss World.
"What is wrong with the contest?" asked Governor I Made Mangku Pastika, speaking to Khabar by phone. "Can you imagine there will be 131 countries participating in this event with an estimated 5,000 journalists from around the world covering this story? For Bali, this is free promotion."
I Gusti Wayan Marjuana, a professor at Udayana University, voiced similar opinions. "The contest will generate many economic benefits for the province," he told Khabar. "It opens more opportunities for local Balinese to expand their markets globally. I do not have any reasons to disagree with the event."
Balinese resident and businesswoman I Gusti Susetyani, 40, told Khabar that the event has the potential to present Indonesia in a favourable light.
"First of all, the event will give a good image of our country," she said. "It will show that we are tolerant and appreciate the differences among all participants. All parties have agreed to eliminate the bikini event in appreciation of Indonesia's culture. Second, as we know, our economy is now weakening. I believe with this event it will be a significant contribution to the country."
Mainstream Muslim leaders have voiced differing opinions. KH Sharif Rahmat, vice chairman of the Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI) organisation, said he hoped the event will provide an opportunity to showcase Indonesian products. He encouraged all participants to dress appropriately and wear local garb.
"They can promote batiks and our clothing designers from across the archipelago," he said.
Indonesia's Minister for Women Empowerment and Child Protection, Linda Agum Gumelar, said that the central government is still discussing the issue.
"We are already assured that the beauty contest will use all Indonesian products and will eliminate the bikini contest," she confirmed to Khabar on September 3rd.