By Paolo Affatato
April 10, 2014
In the country that is home to the world’s largest Muslim population, with 187 electors (out of a total population of 250 million) the majority of whom are Muslim, parties with a patently Islamist agenda have been almightily defeated by those presenting a democratic, secular, moderate and also nationalist programme. This is the by-now-certain result of the Indonesia’s general election. The election was a true test of democracy, with 560 seats in the House of Representatives up for grabs, plus 945 seats in the Regional Representative Council (Indonesia’s equivalent of a Senate) and hundreds of seats in local government administrations.
Indonesia’s young democracy - this is its fourth general election since the end of the Suharto dictatorship in 1998 – has dealt a strong blow to the country’s Islamist parties, some of which were even removed from Parliament. The result was accepted by the noisy (but clearly weak) radical groups that have been making headlines because of scandalous actions like the cancellation of the Miss Universe contest (in September 2013) and Lady Gaga’s concert in Jakarta (which had been scheduled for 2012). Religious minorities including Christian Churches and Hindu and Buddhist communities were delighted with the election result. It has given them hope and restored their faith in a modern country that is on the path towards a mature democracy and which respects the human rights of its citizens and the freedom of conscience and religion. A nation that is ready to make ASEAN Economic Community (inspired on the European Union model) work.
The current President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono – whose mandate will end next July, another key electoral deadline in this presidential republic – lost consensus and his Democratic Party ended up in fourth place in terms of votes won. Voters haven’t forgiven Yudhoyono for the immobility and corruption situation: he has been blamed for his inability to stop Islamist groups that have been poisoning society in recent years, causing problems for Christians, hindering church building, persecuting the Ahmadis (who are considered an Islamic sect) and threatening the harmony and moderation that are trademarks of this vast and pluralistic nation. The leader’s involvement in scandals over mishandled public finances did all the rest.
The Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI-P) led by Megawati Sukarnoputri came out on top, with approximately 19% of the vote, followed by: Golkar with around 14, 3% and the Gerindra party of former general Prabowo Subiantowith 11, 7%. None of these three parties mix religion with politics, emphasising that “you can be a Muslim politician without professing political Islam.” Indonesia’s religious and cultural heritage – its Islamic roots date back to the 12th century. With the arrival of Arab merchants, Islam gradually penetrated local cultures and beliefs - make the country an interesting testing ground, against the stereotypical vision of a “jihadist plan” which sees political Islam as the only possible solution for a Muslim leadership.
Indonesia’s Christian Churches are well aware of this. Christians account for approximately 10% of the population. The PDI-P “is made up of moderate leaders who we are convinced will act in the best interests of the country, including religious minorities, promoting social tolerance and harmony,” Carmelite priest Fr. Emanuel Romanus Harjito told Fides news agency.
Before the election, Catholic bishops urged Indonesians to vote for representatives with a strong ethical and moral sense. Now religious minorities have a stronger reason to hope. Megawati Sukarnoputri’s party sees the Pancasila (literally, “Charter of Five principles”) – a founding document of civil coexistence in Indonesia - as a key reference point. Mrs. Sukarnoputri is the daughter of Indonesia’s founding father Sukarno and President of Indonesia between 2001 and 2004. The Pancasila charter outlines the principles of a secular and liberal state, including democracy, justice and civility, which guarantee the rights of all citizens. This is why Christian leaders are confident that politicians will engage in constructive dialogue, working together to ensure the common good.
There is also one other factor that has contributed to the defeat of radical Islamism: the social and cultural transformation Indonesian society is undergoing, with new generations gaining in influence demographically: 75 million voters went to the polls for the first time. These young people are miles away from the old establishment that governed the country in an authoritarian way. They have been anxious for change and modernization to come and for dignity to be restored to that 11% of the country’s population, which lives below the poverty line. It is these young people who promise to bring a political homo novus to power, someone who has no ties with the old establishment, i.e. the brilliant 50-year-old Governor of Jakarta, Joko Widolo, also known as Jokowi.