| Issue 373
and Regional Affairs |
Dr. Terry Lacey
With Indonesian general elections due April 9th polls show the Islamic
Parties are headed for their worst election performance ever.
In 1955 the religious parties won 43.7 percent of the votes, while
nationalist parties got 51.7 percent. In 1999 they hit 36.8 percent,
rising to 38.1 percent in 2004.
Now all 9 Islamic-based political parties will be lucky to get 17 to 23
percent of the poll, says the Centre for Strategic and International
Studies. (Jakarta Post 18.03.09).
This not linked to a minority of militants undermining the moderate
majority, or getting the jitters from jihadists, or being bothered by
the Bali bombs and Bin Laden.
This is about the consolidation of leadership of the largest secular
Muslim-led democracy in the world during an economic crisis.
There is no room for egos, splits and moralizing about allegedly sexy
traditional jaipong Javanese dancing. It is the Islamic parties who are
The new generation Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) did well in 2004
gaining 7 percent of the votes, electing legislators and mayors and
joining the ruling coalition. But it is said performance in local
government was poor on issues like garbage collection.
Once religious parties started to exercise power after the fall of
Soeharto, they got their hands dirty, not only with garbage, but with
The involvement of representatives of Islamic-based parties in
corruption cases undermined their moralistic appeals. The Corruption
Eradication Commission (KPK) has just arrested Abdul Hadi Djamal of the
National Mandate Party (PAN).
Meanwhile legislator Al-Amin (which means trustworthy) Nasution of the
Islamic-based United Development Party (PPP) has just been jailed for
eight years for taking bribes.
Zainal Abidin, Director of the West Java Islamic Center says although
most Indonesians support Islam, they are not drawn to parties demanding
shariah law or mixing religion with traditionally secular government,
“Indonesian Muslims are themselves afraid of their own religious law”,
he said. (Jakarta Globe 17.03.09).
So the creeping advance of opportunistic, inconsistent and amateur
shariah law at local government level has lost votes, not gained them.
Yet in 1999 a coalition of Islamic parties helped Abdurrahman Wahid (a
liberal Muslim intellectual popularly known as Gus Dur) to win the
Presidency, beating the PDI-P’s Megawati Soekarnoputri (daughter of
President Soekarno) in the presidential elections.
Political analyst Ikrar Nusa Bhakti of the Indonesian Institute of
Sciences said recently that unresolved disputes have torn apart the
country´s main Islamic parties. (Jakarta Globe 17.04.09).
The PAN and the National Awakening Party (PKB) have both suffered
personality disputes leading to new splinter parties.
Gus Dur leads the traditional PKB faction, but the official election
status and party machine was taken over by Hasyim Muzadi, in a struggle
between modernists opposed to a dynastic leadership and traditionalists.
The struggling Islamic mini-parties still have a role to play says Yudi
Latif, Chairman of the Paramadina University Center for Islam. “The big
parties will badly need support from these Islamic parties to meet the
electoral threshold of 25 percent of popular votes to nominate
presidential candidates” he said. The presidential direct elections are
The Democratic party (PD), the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P)
and the Golkar Party (the reformed business-oriented party which ruled
under Soeharto) are likely to sweep the polls with at least 22 , 16 and
14 percent, respectively, of the votes, with 25 percent still undecided.
The secular parties are way out in front, but none of them are strong
enough to go it alone. The growing Democratic Party of President Susilo
Bambang Yudhoyono looks set to carry the day, in the general and
presidential elections, based on a track record of improved economic and
financial management, and effective action against corruption.
Perhaps with different leaders and tactics the Islamic parties could
have mobilized 20 to 25 percent of the votes for common political
purposes to compete with and even overtake the leading secular party.
But only a miracle can do that this time.
Terry Lacey is a development economist who writes from Jakarta on
modernization in the Muslim world, investment and trade relations with
the EU and Islamic banking.
© Copyright Cooperation for Development (Europe)