Gloomy outlook for Islamist parties

Ary Hermawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The future of political Islam remains bleak in Indonesia, with fewer than one in 10 Muslims saying they would still vote for Islamic parties in the next election, a survey revealed Sunday.

But the polling conducted by the Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI) shows religious radicalism and extremism remain strong in the nation with the world's largest Muslim population.

The survey of 1,092 Muslims found only 9 percent would choose Islamic parties if the elections were held today.

"The prospects for Islamic parties are filled with uncertainty," Sayuti Asyathri of the National Mandate Party said in response to the survey. "Political Islam should take firm measures to strengthen its activism."

The survey showed that 43 percent of Muslims here preferred to support secular parties, such as Golkar, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and the Democrat Party rather than Islamic parties such as the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS).

Only 5 percent said they were "close" to Islamic parties.

The survey, which was conducted across the country from September to mid-October, concluded that the political leanings of Indonesian Muslims are basically liberal and pluralistic.

Most respondents also believed that democracy was compatible with Islam and the state ideology of Pancasila.

The poll revealed that 82 percent of the respondents believed in democracy and only 5 percent disagreed with the concept.

"Mainstream Muslims here think that the public sphere should not be regulated by Islamic sharia," said LSI executive director Saiful Mujani.

Political analyst and Muslim scholar Bachtiar Effendy said Islamic parties would never see real success. "They are often too busy with their own issues, such as an Islamic state and sharia," Bachtiar said, adding that the issues had been brought up in academic discourse since the 1960s.

"Nothing is new in LSI's findings. Islamic parties have never won elections," he said, also citing the work of noted American anthropologist Clifford Geertz.

Saiful said Islamic parties must change their political orientation and become more pluralistic in order to survive. "In the end, all parties have to be pluralist."

Despite the apparent weakness of political Islam, the poll found that religious radicalism and extremism quietly have a strong grip on Indonesia.

The survey found significant numbers of Indonesian Muslims agreed with the violent approach used by the Al-Qaeda-linked regional terrorist group Jamaah Islamiyah, which has been fighting for the establishment of an Islamic state in Southeast Asia.

According to the survey, 9 percent felt the Bali bombings were justified as a form of "jihad to defend Islam". Another 80.7 percent explicitly condemned the Bali attacks.

"Nine percent is certainly a significant figure to represent people supporting such extreme acts as the Bali attacks," Saiful noted.

In addition, 17.4 percent of respondents said they supported Jamaah Islamiyah, 16.1 percent backed the Indonesian Mujahidin Council (MMI) and 7.2 percent supported Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia. The latter two are hard-line Islamic groups campaigning for sharia in the country.
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