JAKARTA - Indonesia's Islamic parties have put in an unexpectedly sturdy performance, garnering a combined vote share of close to a third of the ballots cast.
The five Islamic parties together pulled in 31.2 per cent of the votes, according to a quick tally by pollster Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting.
This is up from their share of 25.89 per cent in 2009, but not as high as the 33.8 per cent they notched in 1999 in Indonesia's first election after the fall of president Suharto.
Still it was a commendable showing given early predictions of a dire performance in yesterday's election, partly because of graft scandals involving some of the leading members of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS).
The positive performance of the Islamic parties suggests that their religious appeal still has broad support despite the surge of nationalist parties like Gerindra and the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle in this election. It also boosts their appeal as coalition partners.
Three of the five raised their vote share from 2009. Leading the pack is the National Awakening Party (PKB), which won 8.9 per cent of the vote, up from 4.9 per cent in 2009, according to tallies by Saiful Mujani and Indikator Politik Indonesia.
Dr Dinna Wisnu of the Paramadina University said the PKB's comeback was not unexpected given strong support from Mr Said Agil Siraj, chairman of Nadhlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia's largest Muslim movement with more than 40 million members.
"It is a boon for the party, which draws almost all of its support from the NU whose bases are in East and Central Java," she told The Straits Times.
PKB was founded in 1998 by Mr Abdurrahman Wahid, the then NU chairman who went on to become Indonesia's fourth president. For years, PKB served as a political vehicle for NU and its non-Muslim supporters.
But PKB did woefully in 2009, partly because of feuds within its ranks. Those have since been resolved; in this election it got an additional boost from the entry of airline tycoon Rusdi Kirana, who as its deputy chairman helped strengthen its campaign machinery.
With its strong performance, PKB is set to take over as the largest Islamic party in parliament, displacing PKS, which saw its share of the vote drop from 7.9 per cent to 6.9 per cent, according to the quick counts.
Two other two Islamic parties - the United Development Party (PPP) and the National Mandate Party (PAN) - improved on their performances. The Indikator Politik Indonesia's quick count found that PAN won 7.7 per cent of the vote, up from 6 per cent in 2009, while the PPP got 6.3 per cent, up from 5.3 per cent previously.
The Crescent Star Party of former law minister Yusril Ihza Mahendra lagged behind, scoring only 1.4 per cent of the vote. The party is not expected to get into parliament, as its score is below the 3.5 per cent threshold for national representation.
This article was published on April 10 in The Straits Times.
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