Islamic parties on shaky ground

Islamic parties on shaky ground
A rally in Bandung on Tuesday for Indonesia's biggest Islamic party, PKS. Voters became wary of the Islamic parties last year, after PKS' chief was found guilty of bribery and money-laundering in a beef import scheme.

JAKARTA - Indonesia's five Islamic parties are expected to be barely able to hold their ground in the April 9 general election, being beset by problems such as the graft scandal that hit the biggest Islamic party, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), last year.

Weak performances by their Cabinet ministers and voter focus on bread-and-butter issues are also bad news for these parties.

After four post-Suharto general elections, the Islamic parties have failed to gain more support, but they should still find favour among a section of voters as religion is playing an increasingly important role in the lives of Indonesians.

Islamic leaders have been working hard to regain ground lost due to the PKS scandal.

Dr Philips Vermonte, of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said a study carried out by his think-tank in November found that support for some of these parties was coming back.

"They are seeing supporters returning as the elections draw closer. This is the result of active campaigning by the parties and the politicians wooing those who left," said the CSIS head of politics and international relations.

Two separate surveys by pollsters Media Survei Nasional and Cirus Surveyors Group this month found that the five Islam-based parties could expect to garner an average of 22.1 per cent of the vote this time, reported the Republika newspaper.

This is slightly lower than the 25.9 per cent they received in the 2009 elections.

They are among the 12 national parties taking part in the upcoming parliamentary polls.

In the first two general elections after Suharto's era, in 1999 and 2004, they won 33.7 per cent and 35.1 per cent of the vote respectively. The quintet draw support by talking up Islamic values and social programmes, but avoid generally the fundamentalist ideology of the Middle Eastern Islamic parties or Malaysia's Parti Islam SeMalaysia.

For instance, the vice-chairman of one Indonesian Islamic party, the National Awakening Party, is Mr Rusdi Kirana, a Chinese Christian whose family owns Lion Air, the country's biggest privately run airline.

And PKS had in the past invited a Christian choir to sing at its political rallies.

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