Secular parties gaining Muslim support

Poll shows lack of a uniting leader will cost Indonesia’s Muslim parties dearly at the next general election.

Secular-nationalist parties in Indonesia will have the vote of Muslim voters in next year’s election.

That is the result of a study carried out by the independent Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI) which found the majority of respondents backed Golkar or President Megawati Sukarnoputri’s Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle (PDI-P).

The survey, undertaken in August this year, involved 2,240 respondents. The poll sought to differentiate between ‘devout’ Muslims and secular ones on the basis of the frequency with which they prayed, fasted and read the Quran.

Of the total number interviewed, nearly half categorised themselves as devout Muslims. Muslims as a whole made up 89 percent of those interviewed.

The findings underscore a pattern in Indonesia’s post-independent history – especially the results of the country’s most democratic elections to date in 1955 and 1999 – where Muslim parties have not been able to challenge the dominance of mainstream parties.

The LSI survey found that a coalition of the Nation Awakening Party (PKB), the Justice Party (PKS) and the National Mandate Party (PAN) had the support of just one-third of devout Muslims and 16.2 per cent of secular Muslim respondents.

The PKB, PKS and PAN had the backing of just 19.2 per cent of the total number polled.

When it came to parties that pushed for the syariah law or an Islamic state, support dipped even further – as low as 14 percent, according to the survey.

An LSI spokesman was quoted in the Jakarta Post as saying: ‘The Muslim-based parties do not have enough support to win the majority of the vote in the 2004 election.’

Neither do leaders from the Islamic camp.

The poll showed that Muslim leaders such as PAN chairman Amien Rais and the Crescent Star Party’s Yusril Ihza Mahendra – both of whom are presidential aspirants – were less popular than nationalist figures. Security czar Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was a favourite with pious Muslims. He topped the list with 13 per cent, followed by Ms Megawati with 11.6 per cent, former president Abdurrahman Wahid of PKB with 11.1 per cent and United Development Party (PPP) chairman Hamzah Haz with 9.2 per cent. Last on the list were Mr Yusril and Mr Amien with 7.9 per cent and 7.7 per cent respectively.

Polling is still in its infancy in Indonesia, but the LSI’s findings are telling because they reinforce other surveys carried out in recent months in which the mainstream parties – PDI-P and Golkar – and their leaders are in front.

Against a backdrop of terrorist attacks in the country, support for Muslim-based parties is receding, given concerns that backing for Islamic politicians could pave the way for hardliners to come to power.

Observers believe that if any of the five major Islamic parties makes gains in the parliamentary election, it will come at the expense of the others.

There are even doubts about whether they could forge an alliance.

Torn apart by personal ambition and ideological differences, they are unable to unite behind a single presidential ticket that could challenge the secular-nationalist bloc.

Political analyst Meidyatama Suryodiningrat of the Jakarta-based Van Zorge consultancy believes that parties such as the PPP, the PKB and the PAN, which are led by powerful, high-profile individuals, are held in an ironic trap: ‘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 that smaller Islamic parties such as the PBB and the PKS, which are led by politicians with limited popular appeal, are looking outside the Muslim bloc for national-level leaders.

Indeed, they are courting the likes of security czar Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Muslim scholar Nurcholish Madjid.

There is little chance of them supporting a presidential candidate from one of the big three Islamic parties. That leaves the Muslim camp in a major quandary. There is no one figure that can lead them or forge a united platform.

Six months before the general election, the LSI survey and other signs are increasingly pointing towards their nemesis, the secular-nationalists, leading the way.

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