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Islam and Politics ( 12 Apr 2009, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Setback for growing Islamic fundamentalism in South-East Asia

Indonesian voters lose faith in Islamist parties

 

Indonesia votes for progress

* Dr Terry Lacey

Mon, 13 Apr 2009 15:31:00 +0000

 

IN this Guest Column piece on the results of the Indonesian general election on April 9th, DR TERRY LACEY, explains why he thinks that the people of Indonesia and the country won the election. He argues that the election, in which about 70 percent of 171 million voters participated was a triumph of democracy in this huge country.

 

Although there were some problems including impersonations, dead people voting, bribery, vote selling, heavy rainfall and flooded polling stations, Dr Lacey argues that there was a huge voluntary effort involving thousands of people and the private sector to monitor the elections and get the results out fast.

 

"The benefits of this strengthening civic culture will be seen in economic development, competitiveness in ASEAN and global markets and political stability, in the years to come," he argues.

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The Indonesian general elections on April 9th were a triumph of democracy in this huge South East Asian nation, five hours across on a jumbo jet, with 171 million registered voters of whom about 70 percent turned out and voted. The people won the election and so did Indonesia.

 

The country is stable with a strong democracy, minimal election violence (for its size and history) and has enjoyed an economic growth rate of 4.6 percent in the first quarter of 2009.

 

The elections were contested by 44 parties (38 national and 6 provincial), resulted in the top 50 percent of votes going to three  nationalist parties, and the next 25  percent to the top four Islamic, or Muslim parties.  Two small nationalistic parties led by ex-generals won 8 percent combined.

 

Only these 9 national parties will be in the House of Representatives since parties must pass a threshold of at least 2.5 percent of the vote to get seats in the House.

 

The Democratic Party of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono won the general election with 20 percent of the votes, and is almost guaranteed to win 25 percent of the national seats. This will be the only party strong enough to nominate a candidate on its own for the July Presidential elections, probably backed by a winning coalition.

 

In the only province where local parties were allowed to stand, the Aceh Party based on the previously separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM), reportedly swept the board, gaining 75 percent of provincial assembly seats, as well as winning town and district council seats.

 

About 30 percent of the national electorate failed to vote, the highest abstention rate since democracy was restored. Polling day coincided with a long weekend holiday. Many were fed up with corrupt politicians. There were also problems with voting lists and election logistics.

 

Nonetheless that 70 percent of Indonesians voted, with limited pre-election and election day violence, mostly in two areas (Aceh and Papua) was a triumph of democracy.

 

The elections were good natured and disciplined. The parties tidied election banners and posters off the streets after open campaigning ended, before polling day, as required by law. Amazing !

 

With  171 million voters and 44 political parties contesting 560 seats on a party political basis for the DPR (House of Representatives), 132 seats on an individual basis for the DPD (Regional Representatives  Council (for 33 provinces)  and 18,000 local government seats, this was a formidable logistics exercise.

 

Of course there were problems, including faulty voting lists, the wrong ballot papers in the wrong areas, late arrival of ballots in remote areas, and attempts at voting by impersonators, the dead and the unborn, plus vote selling, bribery, free lunches, heavy rainfall and floods.

 

There were 519,803 polling stations, with 2.1 million ballot boxes. Many voters have four ballot papers to fill out covering 4 levels of representation (two national and two local).

 

In Indonesia prisoners can vote, and many hospital patients voted in mobile polling stations or in bed as election officials come to collect their votes.

 

In a country combating pervasive corruption how does Indonesia deal with election fraud ?

 

Firstly with a complex system of election logistics and supervision by state bodies, led by the General Elections Commission (KPU) and the Ad Hoc Elections Committees (KPPS).

 

Secondly with an army of supporting NGOs including the Centre for Electoral Reform (Cetro), the People´s Voters Educational Network (JPPR), the Indonesian Parliamentary Watchdog (Formappi), the Independent Committee for Election Monitoring (KIPP) and Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW).

 

Thirdly Indonesia has an innovative way to get election results unofficially and fast, approved by the Constitutional Court. Polling organizations and thousands of volunteers do sample quick counts based on official tallies and exit polls, with polling between 07.30 and 12.00 and results by the evening, with official results coming a week later.

 

The benefits of this strengthening civic culture will be seen in economic development, competitiveness in ASEAN and global markets, and political stability, in the years to come.

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*Dr Terry Lacey is a development economist who writes from Jakarta on modernization in the Muslim world, investment and trade relations with the EU and Islamic banking. Comments and suggestions can be sent via: terrylacey2003@yahoo.co.uk

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In Indonesian election, secular parties confirm appeal

Support for Islamist groups appears to be waning after a surge in 2004.

By Simon Montlake, April 9, 2009

 

Jakarta, Indonesia - Early results from Thursday's parliamentary elections in majority-Muslim Indonesia have reaffirmed the appeal of broad-based secular parties over Islamic-oriented rivals.

The three largest secular parties took more than half of the votes, according to projections based on poll sampling. The Prosperous Justice Party, or PKS, the most conservative Islamist party in the race, polled around 8 percent, similar to the last elections. Other Muslim parties vying for parliamentary seats saw their share of the national vote fall. A total of 38 parties contested the elections.

The outcome suggests that a surge of support for Islamists at the last polls in 2004, at a time of uproar in the Muslim world over America's "war on terror," may have been an outlier in Indonesia's secular democracy. Calls for Islamic-based justice and morality appear to have gone unheeded as most voters opted for politicians who campaigned on the economy and the battle against poverty.

 

Islamists moving toward the centre

Even before Thursday's vote, many Islamist politicians had begun moving to the centre, downplaying divisive issues of faith and supporting programs to help the poor. Joining governing coalitions has tempered their zeal and forced them into pragmatic alliances with secular partners. At the same time, those partners have polished their Muslim image.

Some observers warn that Islamic orthodoxy still poses a threat to Indonesia, a patchwork of faiths and ethnicities. Greater piety in public life sows alarm among non-Muslims, who fear a gradual retreat from the nation's secular foundations. But the tepid support at the ballot box for Islamist parties suggests these groups face an uphill climb.

 

"Indonesia's Muslim electorate is not interested in an Islamist agenda. Indonesia is a very religious country, there's lot spirituality, and this is increasing in public life. But that doesn't mean that Indonesians want a religious state," says Robin Bush, country director of the Asia Foundation.

Since 2003, Islamic laws, or Sharia, have been passed by dozens of local legislatures across Indonesia – in some localities, unaccompanied women have been subject to night-time curfews. Though these laws are often loosely enforced, critics say they represent a creeping militancy. Extremist Muslim groups have also used violence to drive out minority Muslim sects such as Ahmadiyah, largely unchecked by secular authorities.

 

Such tactics are aided by the targeting of moderate organizations, whose mosques are being usurped by conservatives from PKS and other groups, says Ahmad Suready, executive director of the Wahid Institute, a liberal think tank in Jakarta. This poses a long-term threat to the inclusiveness of Islamic practice in Indonesia, whatever the outcome at the ballot box, he argues.

 

"When they can't get power from political party, they use the tools of civil society," he says.

PKS officials argue that they are offering a democratic choice to voters and tailoring their policies to meet the needs of all Indonesians. They deny that their belief in Islamic justice is divisive and point out that secular lawmakers have also passed Islamic laws. But they concede that Indonesia may not be ready for such policies.

"We have to work with other parties. That was our mindset from the beginning," says Ahmad Zainuddin, one of the party's founders and a legislative candidate in Jakarta.

Indeed, PKS is likely to play a role in Indonesia's next administration, as it has in the current one. It is allied with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who is looking for support from Muslim parties for a re-election run in July against secular rivals like former President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

In return for its support in 2004, it got two cabinet seats and chairs the upper house of parliament.

 

A network of young supporters

PKS draws much of its support from young, middle-class Muslims who form a dedicated cadre of canvassers, going door to door in Jakarta and other cities. Its volunteer network and Islamic platform sets it apart from other Muslim and secular parties, which rely on TV advertising and mass rallies to reach voters with vague, feel-good messages.

In East Jakarta, where Mr. Zainuddin ran for office, he estimates that his team reached around 1 in 4 households in an area of 2.5 million voters. "One of our country's biggest problems is a lack of education, particularly political education. We want to have a heart-to-heart dialogue with people," he says.

That dedication and drive, coupled with a reputation for honesty in a nation awash in graft, paid off in 2004 with a fourfold rise in seats in parliament. PKS candidates have also polled strongly in local elections. But the popularity of Mr. Yudhoyono and his emphasis on clean government have eaten into that support, taking away PKS's claim of being the only corruption-free party. Some PKS legislators have also been ensnared in corruption probes, denting their white-knight image and causing a rift within the ranks.

Islamist politicians may have lost ground in the polls but their agenda hasn't gone away, says Sidney Jones, an analyst with the International Crisis Group in Jakarta.

"You can't take this [election] as an indicator of where political Islam is in Indonesia. We've seen a mainstreaming into the nationalist parties, and we've seen an effort to reach out to conservative Muslim voters," she says.

Source: Christian Science Monitor

http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0409/p06s10-woap.html

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Indonesian voters lose faith in Islamic parties

Published Date: April 06, 2009  

By Arlina Arshad

 

As Indonesia heads to legislative elections this week, Islamic parties in the world's largest Muslim-majority country are facing the daunting prospect of their worst election showing yet. Despite efforts to project a modern image, opinion polls are showing sliding support for Muslim parties - and the grinding to a halt of years of apparently resurgent political Islam since dictator Suharto's fall in 1998.

 

With growth in Southeast Asia's largest economy slowing, analysts say Islamic parties' moral message is being overshadowed by voters' more earthly concerns. "I don't care if the parties and candidates are religious. I'm choosing people to run a country, not a mosque," 45-year-old Jakarta shop assistant Mohammad told AFP. "You can't pray away a bad economy, unemployment, poverty and crime.

 

That appears to be a belief shared by many of Indonesia's 171 million voters, around 90 percent of who are Muslim. While Islamic parties won 38 percent of the vote in the last elections, in 2004, a recent survey showed the combined support of the country's half a dozen Muslim parties had slipped down to around 24 percent. Among those feeling the pinch is the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), an offshoot of the banned Egyptian Islamist organisation Muslim Brotherhood, which just a few years ago was considered the rising star of Indonesian politics.

 

Now, the PKS is just trying to look cool. When the party staged a massive rally in the capital last week, party president Tifatul Sembiring crooned on stage alongside dreadlocked band members. The display is nothing novel for an Indonesian election, where karaoke is a more common fixture of campaigning than policy debate, but for the usually dour PKS it is an attempt to soften an image of intolerance.

 

The party was a key backer of a much-criticized anti-pornography law passed last year which is widely seen as a threat to cultural traditions and non-Muslim minorities. "The PKS insulted us. Just wait and see, we won't vote for them," said Mas Nanu Muda, a practitioner of the traditional "Jaipong" dance recently criticized by party grandees as being too erotic. "Our party is not fundamentalist, but moderate. A majority of voters are Muslims so they'll vote for us," PKS president Sembiring said.

 

The PKS, which got 7.34 percent of the vote in 2004, had boasted that it would win 20 percent this time. Polls suggest however that it will be lucky to gain five percent, a result that would be nothing short of a humiliation. The problem for Indonesia's Islamic parties - none of which advocate an Islamic state or the widespread introduction of Islamic law - is that they have failed to make the case that they can be trusted with practical issues.

 

The issue isn't about having an Islamic state or a secular state. The hot issue is about the economy. When people are occupied by economic questions they become more rational and they compromise about religion," Indonesian Survey Institute researcher Dodi Ambardi said. "This shows me that Indonesia is heading toward a more mature democracy." However, analysts say this does not mean Muslim parties will be irrelevant.

 

The results of Thursday's election will decide the makeup of Indonesia's national parliament and set the stage for jockeying for coalitions among the crowded field of contenders in the July presidential election. While the three big secular parties are considered most likely to field candidates, Islamic parties could be much sought after as coalition partners, Airlangga University political scientist Daniel Sparringa said. "Islamic parties are still important. The nationalist parties need to join forces with them... to build harmony and gain symbolic power," he said.

 

Some liberal voices have raised concerns that hard-line Islamists are attempting to push Indonesia away from its more liberal roots. A report released last week by a coalition of think-tanks and former president Abdurrahman Wahid argued "extremists" including members of the PKS were "infiltrating" moderate Muslim groups. "Opportunistic politicians who work with extremist political parties and groups have joined the radicals in driving our nation towards a deep chasm," said Wahid, whose Islam-based National

Awakening Party is floundering. - AFP

 

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