From Asia Times http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/HC28Ae03.html
Mar 28, 2006 The decline of political Islam in Indonesia
By Andrew Steele
JAKARTA - Islam maintains a more visible place in secular Indonesia than it has in years. New mosques are popping up everywhere, while more and more women wear jilbabs, or Islamic headscarves, than before. That rising tide of Islamic expression in daily life, however, is not translating into greater support for the country's many mushrooming Islamic political parties, particularly the Partai Keadilan Sejahtera, or the PKS.
The PKS's impressive showing in the 2004 legislative election, in which the party increased its representation in Indonesia's main legislative body, the DPR, to 45 seats from the seven seats it won in 1999, caught many political pundits off guard. Questions arose about whether Indonesia's move toward more democracy would steer the country in a less secular, more Islamic, direction.
The party's "clean and caring" campaign message struck a chord with many voters who had already grown tired of the ineffectiveness of Indonesia's better-known political parties, including former president Suharto's old guard Golkar, former president Megawati Sukarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle, or PDI-P, and former president Abdurrahman Wahid's National Awakening Party, or PKB.
However, voters have always been suspicious that the PKS would eventually push for sharia law and other pieces of conservative legislation that would move Indonesia in the direction of a more pro-Islamic state. True to form, the PKS has recently thrown its legislative weight behind an outrageous anti-pornography bill which aims to push secular Indonesia in the direction of the intolerant, fundamentalist regimes seen in the Middle East.
Shifting its focus from corruption-busting to promoting a more Islamic fundamentalist agenda in Indonesia's secular society has affirmed fears that the party was all along masquerading behind anti-corruption issues to push forward their hardline religious views.
Public opinion polls, academics and former PKS supporters say the party in its current manifestation is falling out of favor with the more democratic-minded Indonesian electorate. Widespread perceptions that the party is consumed with internal disputes and petty power struggles have greatly undermined the party's credentials for affecting political, economic and social change.
In fact, there are growing indications that the party is losing, rather than expanding, its popular support base. A recent survey by the Jakarta-based Lembaga Survei Indonesia (LSI), an independent polling agency, points to a party in peril. LSI conducted a year-long survey in 2005, asking Indonesians which political party they would chose if legislative elections were held that day.
The trend line shows an unmistakable and steady decline for the PKS, running from a January, 2005 high of 10.1% to a dismal 2.7% by year's end, the second-lowest rating for any major political party. The quantitative results are eye-opening, particularly considering the still prevalent impression among Jakarta's political pundits that the PKS is actually growing in numbers.
Significantly, PKS campaigned in 2004 on an anti-corruption ticket, hoping to attract voters to its self-professed squeaky clean image. Disenchanted by former strongman Suharto's corrupt and abusive 32-year rule, that message resonated soundly at the polls. Since being elected, however, the PKS has not yet uncovered any major corruption scandals, analysts note.
Although President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's popularity has dropped in recent months, the fact that no major corruption allegations have surfaced against him or his government has shifted popular attention toward jump-starting the economy, spearheading education drives and improving access to health care.
On all those fronts, the PKS doesn't bring much to the legislative table, according to Indra Piliang, a researcher at the Jakarta-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, or CSIS. "What is the PKS's contribution?" He added that the party was increasingly beginning to resemble Indonesia's many other opportunistic political parties.
Marriages of convenience
Indeed, the PKS has failed to sustain or commit to any broad-based political ideals, and increasingly party leaders seem bent on mere survival. According to PKS's own internal data, the party has entered at least 54 different political coalitions supporting particular governor, mayor or regent candidates across the archipelago. Among them, analysts say, there is no discernible common political or social thread among the PKS's mishmash of coalitions.
On Bali, for example, it backs the mayor of Denpasar in a coalition consisting of Golkar, PAN, the obscure PKPB and PKB party. In South Kalimantan, PKS supports the regent of Balangan alongside PPP, PDI-P, PD and the PKB. The PKS-backed Riau Governor Ismet Abdullah, a Suharto-era New Order holdover, causing some analysts and others to question whether PKS's standards have completely diminished.
"People are starting to see PKS as just another party because they are supporting anyone who might get into power," Indra said. "Their affiliation with regional governments and their participation in coalitions will make it hard for them to maintain their clean and caring message."
More significantly, the PKS's once clean image has recently been tarnished by corruption allegations surrounding its senior members. In Depok, which lies just south of Jakarta, PKS candidate Nurmahmudi Ismail recently won a fiercely contested mayoral race, in which the Indonesian Supreme Court finally ruled in PKS's favor after rival Golkar challenged the integrity of the results.
Nurmahmudi, who campaigned on the party's anti-corruption message, has been questioned since in two high-profile graft cases. The most recent case involves a suspect permit he issued for a 1 million hectare palm oil plantation in East Kalimantan while he served as forestry minister in 2000-01 under then-president Abdurrahman Wahid. The inquiry into the permit involves allegations that only 2,000 hectares are being used for palm oil, while the remainder of the area was illegally logged.
On March 14, Indonesia's Corruption Eradication Commission, or KPK, called the mayor in for questioning. While he has not been charged or declared a suspect, his political opponents are demanding an explanation. Nurmahmudi has remained silent on the case, while the PKS's head in Depok said the questioning was a "normal process", according to news reports.
Innocent or guilty, the allegations have not been lost on Depok residents who backed the PKS precisely for their corruption-busting credentials. "The PKS has started to play," said one PKS supporter, signaling his perception that the PKS is no longer a party of corruption fighters.
PKS has been widely recognized as one of the best-organized political parties in Indonesia. At the same time, it also lacks strong candidates and a well-developed political support base across the country. "Their organizational structure is among the best," Indra explained. "But to get mass support they are not that good because they have a very limited market - like Muslims in the cities and college campuses."
Political analysts are looking forward to the Jakarta governor race, most likely to be run in late 2007, as an important litmus test measuring the popularity of PKS and other Indonesian Islamic parties. For the PKS to be a democratic force, analysts agree that it must first get its house in order - and fast.
A spiraling internal dispute between the party's non-secular members, who control the spirit and core of the party, and a smaller, more moderate secular faction that joined after becoming disenchanted with the corruption in other political parties, threatens to derail its future election hopes.
There are some indications that party elders understand the political necessity to tone down its increasingly hardline message. Information recently surfaced that the party is considering fronting former Indonesian TV star Rano Karno as its candidate in the Jakarta gubernatorial race - hardly the face of fundamentalist Islam.
But if the latest LSI poll is any indication - and historically its research has been - it's going to take more than cosmetics to reinvigorate Indonesia's largest, floundering, Islamic party.
<i>Andrew Steele is the Managing Editor of the fortnightly Van Zorge Report on Indonesia based in Jakarta. He may be reached at email@example.com