NUSA DUA – The Miss World final takes place on the Indonesian resort island of Bali on Saturday after weeks of protests from Muslim hardliners and warnings that extremists could attack the pageant.
Police and traditional Balinese security personnel, wearing sarongs and armed with daggers, will be out in force on the Hindu-majority island as the beauty queens take to the stage.
A total of 129 contestants will parade in the glittering finale of the three-week event, which will be broadcast to more than 180 countries.
But protests by Islamic radicals in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, have overshadowed the contest and prompted authorities to order the whole event be moved to Bali, where hardliners have little influence.
Radical anger has not been appeased, however. The hardliners are threatening to stage fresh protests on Saturday and even to try to break through heavy security to get into Bali to demonstrate at the venue.
“We are going to protest against it, because it is unacceptable,” said Haidar Al-Hamid, head of the East Java province branch of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI).
The province sits just across the water from Bali, and he said that the group planned to head to the island on Saturday, although they will face a tough time as main entry points will be heavily guarded.
Hundreds of FPI members have already made one attempt to cross to Bali from East Java earlier this month – but the group was stopped from getting onto a ferry by a line of female police backed by hundreds of elite officers.
Adding to concerns, the American, British and Australian embassies have said that radicals could attack the pageant, a chilling warning on an island where bombings in 2002 killed more than 200 people, most of them foreign tourists.
“Extremist groups may be planning to disrupt the Miss World pageant… potentially through violent means,” said the US embassy in Jakarta.
Adjie S. Soeratmadjie, corporate secretary of TV network RCTI, which is broadcasting Miss World and helping to organise it, said security was the “main concern.”
“We are confident that the police will do everything necessary to ensure safety,” he said.
Miss World labeled as ‘pornography’
From Indonesian capital Jakarta to cities on Sumatra island and Borneo, thousands have joined protests across the Indonesian archipelago, denouncing Miss World as “pornography” and a “whore contest” and burning effigies of the organizers.
Despite a pledge by the British-based organizers to axe the famed bikini round even before the pageant began, the protest movement snowballed, pushing the authorities into switching the venue.
Organizers always planned to hold the September 8 opening and early rounds on Bali but later rounds and the final were to take place in and around Jakarta, where radicals wield considerable influence.
The decision to change locations was another victory for Indonesia’s hardline fringe, who are only a tiny minority but have succeeded in getting events they deem “un-Islamic” canceled or changed in the past.
Last year, Lady Gaga axed a concert after threats to burn down the venue and criticism for wearing only “a bra and panties.”
Authorities are hoping that hosting the event on Bali will present them with less of a security headache, given the island is a pocket of relaxed Hinduism used to hordes of scantily clad foreign tourists.
But they are not taking any chances – almost 500 police have been deployed to guard venues linked to Miss World since the pageant began and almost 700 will be on duty on Saturday, according to police.
They will be reinforced by traditional Balinese security personnel, known as “pecalang”, who work with police but come under the authority of their local villages, according to Bali police spokesman Hariadi, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.
The late decision for the venue change infuriated MNC media group, the main local organizer and parent company of RCTI, as it meant a new venue on Bali had to be hastily found.
Despite the difficulties, the show has continued as planned, with contestants participating in rounds including a talent show and a “top model” contest.
Saturday’s final, in Nusa Dua, southern Bali, will last several hours and will see the contestants parade in Indonesian-designed dresses and feature a series of musical performances.
The finalists will face a question and answer round from a panel of judges before a winner is crowned.