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Islamist party likely to be future force JAKARTA - When a young Indonesian Islamist party put more than 100,000 members on the streets of Jakarta last year to protest at the impending U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, people started to take notice. The Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) has caught the eye again during parliamentary elections this week, making strong gains that show it is an emerging power in Indonesian politics. But those gains came by shelving its conservative Muslim agenda in public and focusing on what irks Indonesians most -- graft, injustice and unemployment. Just what the party will do with its Islamist platform now remains an open question.
Based on early returns, PKS has won 10 percent of the vote on its pledge to clean up Indonesian politics, way above the 1.4 percent it got in 1999. A survey based on tallies at randomly picked polling stations has given the party 7.2 percent. "When you read party training documents you find their attitudes toward Christians and the West is suspicious, far more wary. There is a concealed agenda," said Greg Fealy, an expert on Indonesian Islam at the Australian National University. "I wouldn't want to make that sound sinister, but they say this is the early phase of our political development and we have to be expedient in the way in which we approach things," Fealy added, referring to the dumping of the party's conservative Muslim agenda in public during the election campaign.
Indeed, PKS and several other Islamist parties avoided any talk of Islamic Sharia law or turning Indonesia into an Islamic state as surveys showed this had no traction with voters. Most Indonesians practise a moderate brand of Islam. Islamist parties won 14 percent of the parliamentary poll in 1999, but apart from PKS, all are losing support this time. Robert Hefner, an author on Indonesian Islam at Boston University, said PKS was split over how hard to push for more Islam in Indonesia's political life and what this would mean for the country's substantial population of non-Muslims.
He said PKS was going to be influential because of how the political structure of the world's most populous Muslim nation was shaping up following the ouster of former strongman Suharto in 1998. PKS was formed not long after that. "I think basically once it gets up to around 7-8 percent (of the vote) it's going to be a force," he said. Hefner said it appeared Indonesia was evolving into a system with two big secular nationalist parties at the forefront, followed by a second tier that would be a little more Islamic in orientation and which could exercise significant influence. That power might be displayed when parties seek to build coalitions before presidential elections on July 5.

Islamic society, not state

So where does the Prosperous Justice Party stand on things like making Indonesia an Islamic state? Speaking in central Java recently, PKS leader Hidayat nur Wahid denied that the party had a hidden agenda. The Saudi-educated Wahid said PKS had never backed a tough interpretation of sharia, which, for instance, calls for amputations for thieves. "We don't talk about an Islamic state, we talk about an Islamic society, Islamic principles, civil society," he said.
"The problem is too many people talk about sharia and they mean cutting hands and wearing (head) scarves. Our main programme is how to make people better off, how to get justice." Fealy called Wahid the "acceptable" public face of PKS, saying he believed there were people behind him who were more influential, more ideologically driven. What is undeniable is that PKS has won respect for its integrity and commitment to eradicate graft, and it is attracting some bright young Muslim minds to its banner. "We are saying (to Indonesians), come to us because we are clean and fair. We are the next generation," said Wahid.



Posted in Elections @ 07 April 2004 00:04 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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