Congratulations to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who, subject to a putative investigation by the General Elections Commission (KPU) into incidents of gerrymandering, will be Indonesia’s president for the next five years. This will be the President’s second term in office and by far the more convincing given that he secured a substantial majority of the vote (some 60% of the electorate according to exit polls):
|Megawati – Prabowo||SBY – Boediono||Jusuf Kalla – Wiranto|
|Indonesian Survey Institute||26.56%||60.85%||12.59%|
|Indonesian Survey Circle||27.36%||60.15%||12.49%|
|Cirus Surveyor Group||27.49%||60.20%||12.31%|
|Radio Republik Indonesia||21.27%||62.46%||16.26%|
Source: The Jakarta Post
From the standpoint of political Islam, Indonesia is very important: it’s the world’s 3rd largest democracy (a population approaching 230 million – 87% of whom describe themselves as Muslim); Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim majority state; and Islamic parties have been contesting elections here for over 60 years. What all this means is that the fortunes of Islamic parties in Indonesia provide a barometer reading as to the state of political Islam not just in South East Asia, but the wider ‘Muslim world’.
In the Jakarta Post, Bachtiar Effendy, a professor of political science at the State Islamic University, examines the landscape of Indonesian political Islamism in the wake of the election results:
Indonesia’s political history solidified the close connection between Islam and politics. But it was only briefly that Islam was able to emerge as a single political identity when Muslims formed Masyumi in 1945. For this, Sjahrir predicted that had the first elections been held in 1946, Masyumi would have collected the majority of the votes.
In 1958, some Masyumi members joined a rebellion against the dictator, President Sukarno. As a result, in 1960, Masyumi was outlawed, which led to the formation of the Crescent Star Family (Indonesian: Keluarga Bulan Bintang) to campaign for Islamic shariah law and teachings. The CSF contested the legislative elections in 1999, 2004 and also in 2009 when the party secured just 1.8 per cent of the vote, less than the 2.5 per cent electoral threshold, and resulting in the loss of all its seats in the People’s Representative Council.
That did not happen. Elections did not take place that year and the political unity of Islam crumbled – Masyumi was abandoned by Sarekat Islam in 1947 and Nahdlatul Ulama in 1952. So when the very first elections were held in 1955, four and two other smaller Islamic parties contested the election. Together they collected almost 44 percent of the vote.
This electoral strength declined dramatically during the 32 years of the New Order. Through a carefully orchestrated political restructuring, the state managed not only to debunk the electoral strength of political Islam, but also the partisan position of Islam in politics. With it, especially in the 1980s, Islam was no longer the monopoly of the existing Islamic party – the PPP.
As early as 1971 many Muslim activists began to cast their support for Golkar. Coupled with the growth of new Islamic political ideas promulgated especially by Nurcholish Majid, the partisan position of Islam in politics was almost completely neutralized.
Given the extremely diverse nature of Indonesian domestic politics reflecting the divergent ethnic groups, languages and religions that comprise the electorate, it’s perhaps not surprising that support for Islam was split amongst various political parties and apolitical organisations; each with a different conception of the degree to which Islam should play a role in Indonesia’s civil society.
The resignation of president Soeharto in 1998 changed the pattern of Islam in politics. It differed from the one that had been put into practice, but was still not dramatic enough to be able to make Islam a single political identity. Many political parties that do not have Islamic credentials are still able to enjoy the support of Muslims.
This could provide a window onto the future of political Islam in the Middle East and beyond, as we observe recent election results that appear to show declining support in some countries such as Morocco and Lebanon for political parties campaigning on an exclusively Islamic platform. In Indonesia, evidently, espousing Islamic values does not necessarily translate into votes for an Islamic party. Voters appear to want more than just Islamic activism and perceived piety from their elected representatives as democracy matures and becomes entrenched.
Under these circumstances, Muslim voters were still highly dispersed. They were not distributed to Islamic parties. Collectively, Islamic parties were able to marshal only 37 percent (1999), 38 percent (2004), and 24 percent (2009) of the total votes. This means that there were Muslims who voted for non Muslim-based parties.
In other words, the political position of Islam remained fluid. As such, because Muslims gave their supports to Yudhoyono instead of Amien Rais or Hamzah Haz, two notable Muslim leaders, in the 2004 presidential election.
And what about President-elect Yudhoyono’s Islamic credentials? Well, he comes from a robust military background that saw him spend a considerable amount of time in the US and in Europe furthering his military education and obtaining an MA in Business Administration in 1991. As well as being posted to the tinderbox region of Indonesian-occupied East Timor for several tours of duty, Yudhoyono has been instrumental in reducing the influence of the army on politics.
Yudhoyono was appointed to his old position of Coordinating Minister of Political and Security Affairs in former President Megawati’s new cabinet. After the October 2002 Bali bombing, he oversaw the hunt for and arrest of those responsible, and gained a reputation both in Indonesia and abroad as one of the few Indonesian politicians serious about the War on Terrorism. His speech during the one year anniversary of the Bali bombing (in which many Australians were killed) was praised by the Australian media and public. Yudhoyono also dealt with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), a separatist movement wanting to separate the Province of Aceh from Indonesia.
With regard to the Islamic factor, Yudhoyono’s 2009 victory did not differ from that of the 2004 presidential election. Almost all Islamic and Muslim-based parties like the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), the National Mandate Party (PAN), the United Development Party (PPP) and the National Awakening Party (PKB) supported Yudhoyono, even though Kalla was perceived to have more Islamic credentials. But Kalla seemed to have the unofficial support of many leaders of non-political Islamic organizations such as Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah.
His principal reasoning in allocating the available resources, including the Cabinet posts, will be to create a decent and workable arrangement to ensure that his policies will not be challenged in parliament and on the street.
The fluidity of Islam in politics became stronger considering the fact that there is always a gap between the leaders and their followers when it comes to voting. Not long after all Islamic and Muslim-based parties gave their allegiances of support for Yudhoyono, many of their leaders said that they could not guarantee that party members would vote the way they would. Even more so, they could not guarantee that party organs would follow their direction. This made the dispersion of votes among Muslims inevitable.
The same story went for non-party Islamic organizations. The unofficial demonstration of support of some of Nahdatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah leaders to either Megawati or Kalla were not fully shared by the Muslim community at the grass- roots level. An independent pollster who conducted a quick count and exit poll indicated that around 16 percent of the Nahdlatul Ulama’s votes went to Kalla, 26 percent to Megawati, and 60 percent to Yudhoyono. The distribution of Muhammadiyah support was not significantly different: 19 percent to Kalla, 23 percent to Megawati, and 59 percent to Yudhoyono.
Because of this, Yudhoyono is likely to create a delicate balance among the existing political forces. His leaning toward left or right, liberalism or conservatism, Islamism or secularism – if all these terms are appropriate and able to capture the nuance and substance of our socioeconomic and political realities – will be determined by what he perceives necessary.
What does this fluidity of Islam mean for Yudhoyono’s presidential triumph? One can always argue differently, but I would like to propose that it was Yudhoyono himself who had made the majority of voters attracted to him. Backed by a very well-financed campaign machinery, a targeted percentage of votes in the high 50s or low 60s was easily reachable.
Should this be the case, it can be said that Islam did not play an important role in Yudhoyono’s road to victory. A number of religious sentiments, such as the issue of head covering or even religion itself, that were brought to surface, did not seem to influence voters.
However, it would be a mistake to assume that Islam has no function whatsoever in Indonesian politics. Certainly, Islam still has a certain degree of influence in our day-to-day politics, but many Muslims were simply overwhelmed by the political presence of Yudhoyono.
This is not something that Yudhoyono does not notice. Because of that, he does not feel especially grateful to Islamic parties or his Muslim voters. Likewise, he would not punish those who supported his rivals.