FREELY Political Islam adrift in
Indonesia By Donny Syofyan
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A recent Indonesian
Survey Circle found that major Islamic political
parties, including the Prosperous Justice Party,
the National Awakening Party (PKB), the National
Mandate Party (PAN) and the United Development
Party, would each garner less than 5% of the
popular vote and collectively only 21.1% if a
general election were held today.
politicians or Islamic party members might cast
doubt on the predictability of the survey’s
methodology and sample. But
viewed from a political
communication perspective, it should be seen as
positive and constructive input for the betterment
of the parties.
The survey makes four
crucial points the parties’ executives must heed
in their attempts to revitalize their ranks at a
crucial crossroads. First, Islamic parties will
need to raise the profile of their new young
figures. As the 2014 election approaches, the
public is not familiar with the parties' new
generation candidates. Although small in number,
they are perceived as incapable of winning voter
hearts and minds and as lacking in public
acceptability and sympathy.
appearance on the political stage seems limited to
their individual expertise instead of their
magnetic personalities, seen in the likes of
Lukman Hakim Saifuddin (PPP) or Bima Arya Sudiarto
(PAN). Others are better known for their
controversy and gallantry, including PKS newcomers
Anis Matta and Fahri Hamzah.
brilliance and panache cannot break the parties'
strong oligarchy. The problem of intra-party
regeneration has as much to do more with senior
figures' reluctance to hand over the reins to
their younger members as the poor design of
rejuvenation efforts. While the former could
result in political arrogance, the latter could
render the young leaders panicked and less
confident during a time of fast change. Among the
main Islamic parties, PKS is probably the only
Second, Islamic parties lack
mastery of society's main strategic issues. This
gives the impression that the big national issues
are owned and controlled by national level secular
parties. While many Islamic parties campaigned on
anti-corruption tickets, now in office they are
not viewed publicly as being aggressive enough in
addressing the country's many cancerous scandals.
The failure to deal with these assorted
scandals and lead public opinion has caused the
Islamic parties to lose their social and
intellectual capital. The parties perceived
inability to tackle society's strategic issues has
left the popular impression that they are more
concerned with promoting Islamic formalization
than good governance.
Some have suggested
this poor mastery is linked to the Islamic
parties' small number of seats in the House of
Representatives. However that small representation
could be maximized through the parties' other
resources, including their strong networks of
Muslim scholars (ulema) and activists, mosques,
Islamic boarding schools, and many others. To date
they have exploited these resources in a sporadic
rather than systematic manner.
parties would be wise to establish joint think
tanks with a view to sharpening their politicians'
lobbying skills. Irwan Prayitno, a PKS politician
and West Sumatra Governor, is noted for his
remarkable lobbying skill abroad and at home and
some suggest could play a pivotal role in
initiating such a breakthrough.
Islamic parties lack mass media influence. While
secular-national parties utilize the power of
media to the level of control and ownership, the
Islamic parties are still struggling to own and
maintain various mass media. Countless political
activities and programs conducted by Islamic
parties do not resonate with voters because they
are not covered in the mainstream media.
There are many professional and reputable
non-government organizations belonging to the
Islamic parties, including the Medical Emergency
Rescue Committee and the Community Caring Justice
Post, whose activities are not featured in mass
media. Indeed, many of them prefer to do their
humanitarian deeds in silence without publicity.
That silence, however, has left many of them
exposed to black campaigns and prejudice by rival
politicians and vested interest groups.
Fourth, and perhaps most crucially, is the
growing friction and polarization within and among
Islamic parties. For instance, the Crescent Star
Party became vulnerable when its two founders,
Yusril Ihza Mahendra and Fadli Zon, left the party
amid internal tensions.
PKS has spent much
energy and time dealing with former PKS legislator
Yusuf Supendi, who filed a report with the
Corruption Eradication Commission alleging that
fellow party member Anis Matta had embezzled 10
billion rupiah in campaign funds.
Masyumi Party lost the significant backing of the
Nahdlatul Ulama's mass membership just because it
could not secure the post of Religious Affairs
Minister for its preferred candidate.
be sure, intra-party friction is not unique to
Islamic parties. For instance, the national level
secular Golkar Party has also faced its own
political turmoil and friction. However, Muslim
constituents are less willing to tolerate any
friction within Islamic parties due to their
among Islamic politicians indicates that internal
strife has become part of the culture of many
Islamic parties. Yet the inability to seek a
common platform has greatly inhibited the
development of Islamic political power in
Indonesia, as the recent LSI poll indicated.
Donny Syofyan is a lecturer at
Andalas University, Indonesia.
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