Islamic-based parties are poised for what could be their worst showing since Indonesia’s democratic era began in 1999. At least two of the parties are polling so low that they might lose any presence in the House of Representatives, The New York Times reports.
“You’re looking at a substantial drop for them,” said Paul Rowland, a Jakarta-based political consultant. “They are not a significant factor,” he tells Times reporter Joe Cochrane:
The slide in popularity, first noticed in the 2009 elections, appears to be worsening despite studies showing that Indonesians are becoming more pious.
Why political Islam has not taken deep root on a national level in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country — where about 90 percent of people are among the faithful — is a complicated question. The reasons lie in Indonesia’s history as a secular nation and in the Islamic parties’ own recent record.
No Islamic-oriented politician has been a serious candidate since direct presidential elections began in 2004. A poll released last week by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta found that the top five contenders in Indonesia’s next presidential election, to be held in July, each represented a secular nationalist party.
The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and resurgence of Wahhabi/Salafi groups in the wake of the Arab awakening prompted some observers to call for “a renaissance of Islamic pluralism, tolerance and critical thinking.”
“What we are facing today is even more dangerous than physical acts of terrorism: that is, the onslaught of extremist ideology, which is provoking a visceral backlash in the West, in an ever-escalating cycle of hatred and violence,” said Kyai Haji A. Mustofa Bisri, deputy chairman of the Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s mass Islamic movement, and Holland Taylor, the head of LibForAll and its International Institute of Qur’anic Studies.
With 50 million adherents and some 14,000 madrasahs, the NU is the world’s largest Muslim organization.
Indonesia has been held up as a potential model for Arab transitional states for demonstrating the compatibility of Islam and democracy, and the pluralist potential of its distinctive form of civil Islam.
Widely considered a democratic beacon in a volatile region, Indonesia’s reform process was characterized by a “remarkable opening-up of political space [and] regeneration of civil society.” Its transition reportedly has a particular resonance for U.S. President Barack Obama, who lived there as a child and has lauded its shift from authoritarian rule.
But analysts now say that Indonesian voters are more concerned with reducing poverty and improving education than with the religious symbolism of the Islamic-based parties, the NYT’s Cochrane adds:
“The Islamic parties have very little economic credibility,” said Gregory Fealy, an associate professor of Indonesian politics at the Australian National University in Canberra.
Beyond that, a poll released March 31 by the Indonesia Network Elections Survey found that less than 1 percent of voters supported a political party because it represented their particular religious beliefs.
“Sixty years ago, people thought that politics and religious behavior were inseparable in Indonesia. It was a part of the Islamic identity to vote for an Islamic political party,” Mr. Fealy said. “Today you can express your piety but vote for anyone you want.”