Strong leaders hamper Jakarta’s Islamic parties

Islamic parties in Indonesia are facing a crisis of leadership.

Torn apart by personal ambition and ideological differences, the five major Muslim parties – the United Development Party (PPP), Nation Awakening Party (PKB), National Mandate Party (PAN), Crescent Star Party (PBB) and Justice Party (PK) – have not been able to unite behind a single presidential ticket to challenge Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri and the secular nationalist bloc in next year’s election.

Ego is the main obstacle. None of the ambitious leading Muslim politicians is prepared to play second fiddle and none of the leading contenders, such as Vice-President Hamzah Haz, National Assembly chairman Amien Rais and former president Abdurrahman Wahid, have shown they can work together.

For instance, Mr Hamzah, who is the PPP chairman, would rather serve again as Ms Megawati’s No. 2 than be in the shadows of Dr Amien.

Dr Amien, who leads PAN and is at the forefront of cobbling together a Muslim coalition ahead of presidential polls, has his own grand plan. He wants the presidency for himself – just like former Indonesian leader Abdurrahman Wahid, who is being backed by PKB.

Political analyst Meidyatama Suryodiningrat of the Jakarta-based Van Zorge consultancy believes parties such as PPP, PKB and PAN are trapped in irony.

‘They have strong party chiefs who can attract a large number of voters. But it is the very stature of these individuals that diminishes the likelihood of other high-profile candidates running on the same ticket.’

He said smaller Islamic parties such as PBB and PK are looking outside the Muslim bloc for national-level leaders such as security czar Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Muslim scholar Nurcholish Madjid.

Underlying personal rivalry are deep historical differences between two of the largest Muslim groups – the Nadhlatul Ulama (NU) and the Muhammadiyah. Most parties gravitate either to NU or Muhammadiyah, making it difficult for them to forge a common stand on major issues.

Indeed, none of them, given the pervasive ideological differences, has been able to present a united Islamic platform on issues such as syariah law or the Islamic state.

There are concerns that backing Islamic politicians could pave the way for hardliners to come to power. And mainstream voters are likely to stay with the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle and Golkar.

Islamic parties – on their own or as a coalition – are unlikely to produce a winning presidential ticket.

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