JAKARTA: Amien Rais, head of Indonesia's supreme legislature, said yesterday that concentrating on the Islamic vote would not win him the presidency in next year's elections.
Amien, a former leader of the country's second largest Muslim group, also said Islamic schools preaching hate should be shut down and the Bali bombers should not be allowed to appeal their death sentences.
He said he would lose if he chose to focus only on Muslim voters.
“Political Islam is not selling in this country. If I based my political support only on Muslims, there is a foregone conclusion that I will lose,” said Amien, who led the 30-million strong Muhammadiyah before he became a politician in 1998.
“Of course, I don't want to lose my captive market. But only with that, I will go nowhere.”
He added that visiting churches, Buddhist temples, animist tribes in jungle-clad Borneo and other minority communities would be high on his campaign agenda.
Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim country, with around 85% of its 210 million population following Islam. But most consider themselves moderate and see hardline groups as a fringe community, despite signs of rising orthodoxy in some areas like education and dress.
An opinion poll conducted this week by the independent Indonesian Survey Institute showed that most Muslims in Indonesia prefer to vote for secular rather than religious parties and found Muslim leaders were less popular than nationalist figures.
Incumbent president Megawati Sukarnoputri, the front-runner for the 2004 presidential election, comes from the nationalist Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle, the leading party in the last election in 1999.
Indonesians will choose their president directly for the first time in history in next year's presidential poll to be held on July 5. If no candidate gets more than half the vote, a run-off between the top two will be held on Sept 20.
Amien reminded his audience that no Muslim party had won a majority in an Indonesian election and no move to impose Islamic syariah law nationwide had succeeded.
On terrorism, Amien reiterated his tough stance on punishing Muslim militants involved in violence, especially those who received death sentences over their roles in the Oct 12, 2002 bombings in Bali that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists.
“I don't feel at ease if those terrorists who have been given death verdicts are given chances to appeal. This is ridiculous.
“We have to banish them from this earth. The sooner the better,” he said.
Amien also backed views to officially make Jemaah Islamiah, the South-East Asian militant group blamed for the Bali case and other attacks in the region, illegal and shut down Islamic schools that lay the ground for militants to commit violence.
“If it is proven that certain pesantrens have become nests of terrorists, it is very wise if we close down those pesantrens,” said Amien, who warned such a move should not touch mainstream pesantrens – Islamic boarding schools that have become a pillar of the Indonesian education system.
The former university lecturer was also against moves by the justice ministry to draft a criminal code that would criminalise premarital sex, adultery and cohabitation. – Reuters
Did you find this article insightful?