Indonesia's Islamic parties in decline

Indonesia's Islamic parties in decline

WHEN former Solo mayor Joko Widodo was elected Jakarta governor in September last year, he became an overnight sensation for defeating the widely experienced and well-regarded incumbent Fauzi Bowo.

But when he was touted as a presidential candidate because of the high ratings he received from pollsters, he became the source of disquiet among Jakarta politicians envious of his meteoric rise.

Mr Widodo's emergence in national politics has jolted leaders of five Islamic parties. Until last month, they were oblivious to the election fever that has seen other parties busy preparing and naming their candidates for the presidential polls in July next year.

The five Muslim-based parties eligible to contest in elections next year are the United Development Party (PPP), Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), National Mandate Party (PAN), National Awakening Party (PKB) and Crescent Star Party (PBB).

They are considered "Islamic" because they have either a formal ideological basis in Islam or rely on an overtly Islamic identity for most of their support.

The PPP has proposed that the nation's Islamic parties should come together and nominate a Muslim leader who could block the rise of the Jakarta governor.

"There should be a figure from among the Islamic parties who can come forward (and compete against Mr Widodo)," said head of the PPP faction in Parliament, Mr Hazrul Azwar.

To achieve that, he proposed that all five Islamic parties form a coalition to form a counterweight to the secular-nationalist forces that support the Jakarta governor, popularly known as Jokowi.

Mr Hazrul's standpoint seems to be that Indonesia's president should be a respected Muslim figure, given that it is a Muslim majority country. This is despite the fact that the 1945 Constitution does not stipulate the religion of the head of state.

Mr Widodo is Muslim but the Islamic parties seem to view him as a secular-nationalist who may not be able to fully understand Muslim aspirations.

While the move may be prompted by the desire to block the Jakarta governor, there is no certainty the Islamic parties will succeed in forging a coalition among themselves or, if they do, will be able to find a candidate every component party is willing to support.

Forming a coalition is necessary if the Muslim parties want to take part in the presidential elections. The law requires a candidate to have the support of 20 per cent of seats in the House of Representatives, or 25 per cent of the popular vote garnered in the preceding legislative elections.

Based on the 2009 legislative elections, none of the five Islamic parties would qualify.

The PKS garnered 7.88 per cent; PAN 6 per cent; PPP 5.3 per cent; PKB 4.9 per cent; and PBB 1.8 per cent. But as a coalition, their combined total of 25.88 per cent makes them eligible to field a team of candidates for president and vice-president.

However, personal rivalries and competition for the Muslim vote in the same constituencies mean that it will not be easy to forge such an alliance.

But assuming they manage to cobble together a coalition, there is also the problem of agreeing to the choice of candidate, particularly if each party has in mind its own party chairman or patron as a presidential nominee.

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