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Monday, 31 March 2014

Many Indonesian voters have lost their faith in Islamic groups

Going strong: A superman-inspired mascot of United Development Party campaigning in Jakarta. — AFP

Going strong: A superman-inspired mascot of United Development Party campaigning in Jakarta. — AFP

JAKARTA: Nisa Ariyani staunchly supported Indonesia’s Muslim parties her whole life, throughout decades of authoritarian rule and at the three legislative elections after the country became democratic.

But when tens of millions vote in parliamentary polls in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country on April 9, the 42-year-old teacher is set to join a growing number who will not cast their ballot for an Islamic party.

Indonesia’s five main Muslim parties are heading for their worst ever showing at the elections, hit by explosive scandals and a growing trend among voters not to pick parties purely on religious grounds.

“I have lost my faith in Islamic parties, and I will vote for nobody,” said Ariyani, who lives in the capital Jakarta and has worn a headscarf all her life, even during the long rule of dictator Suharto when it was uncommon in Indonesia.

Her change of heart is due to a specific case – a sordid scandal involving clandestine hotel room sex and huge kickbacks that rocked the party she had supported at previous elections, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS).

Before supporting the PKS, Indonesia’s biggest Islamic party, she backed the United Development Party, one of the few opposition groups allowed by Suharto and still around now.               

The decline in support for Muslim parties – which range from moderate groups to more extreme ones that want to introduce Islamic syariah law – since the end of authoritarian rule in 1998 seems at first glance a paradox, analysts say.

Since the downfall of Suharto, who backed a secular state and was against the strong influence of Islam in public life, Indonesia has appeared to have become more Islamic, not less.

An increasing number of women wear the headscarf, Islam-influenced goods – from fashion brands to apps that remind you when to pray – are all the rage, while some people have even chosen to live in strict Islamic communities, rejecting the trappings of modern life.

The tumultuous years following the end of Suharto’s regime were also accompanied by an upsurge in Islamic extremism, notably the 2002 Bali bombings.

A crackdown over the past decade has weakened the most dangerous groups but Islamic extremists still regularly target domestic security forces.

Despite this, the country’s five main Islamic parties – among 12 running in the parliamentary elections – have seen their popularity slide in the sprawling archipelago nation where more than 90% of the population are Muslims.

Their combined share of the vote fell to around 26% at the 2009 legislative polls from around 34% a decade earlier. — AFP

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