Will there be an Islamic Rainbow Coalition?


TO MANY, Islam is a monolithic force. But in Indonesia, it is anything but.

With 12 of the 48 political parties being Muslim-oriented and a few others like the ruling Golkar party, the National Mandate Party (PAN) and National Awakening Party (PKB) bearing shades of Islam to lure voters, the country probably represents the most heterogeneous expression of political Islam in the world.

With the exception of a few, these parties generally have no intention to create a state run on Islamic laws, unlike many of the religious-based parties of the 1950s.

Their main goal is to create a state in which Islam is the dominant religion, as in Malaysia. They want to give Indonesia’s 180 million Muslims their rightful place in society after being sidelined under the Suharto regime, which, they allege, favoured Christians and ethnic Chinese.

Such shared perceptions, however, do not in themselves register a united bloc in Indonesia’s emerging political format. What are their fault lines?

A common assumption is that most of the parties differ only by their party symbols from the star or crescent to the cube-shaped Kaa’ba in Mecca.

An authoritative study on Islam in Indonesia by Van Zorge, Hefferman & Associates, a political and economic consultancy, concludes that the parties are distinctive in other ways, with cross-cutting divisions across a range of political ideologies and schools of thought.

The most obvious division is between modernists and traditionalists. The former is purist and exclusivist in orientation. They tend to be more formalistic and orthodox in their approach to Islamic teachings.

All the modernist parties claim to embrace, to some extent, the teachings of the old Masyumi Party, the Islamic movement that secured the second largest share of the votes in the 1955 election. The party was banned subsequently, and many of its leaders were jailed or exiled by presidents Sukarno and Suharto.

The modernist parties include the Crescent Star Party (PBB), New Masyumi Party, Masyumi Islamic Political Party (PPIM) and several other smaller parties. Most of their support is urban-based and drawn from the Muhammadiyah, the second largest Islamic organisation in Indonesia with 28 million members.

The traditionalist draws on Indonesia’s pre-Islamic, largely Javanese culture, and support revolves around the 35-million-strong Nadhlatul Ulama. The parties, which are expected to get the backing from the “pesantran” (Islamic boarding schools) in the countryside and villages, include the major United Development Party (PPP), Nadhlatul People’s Party (PNU) and the People’s Awakening Party (PKU).

There could be a third category. The one-million-strong Justice Party does not fit easily into the traditionalist-modernist dichotomy. Van Zorge says its top leadership is comprised of elite university students who came together following the Iranian Revolution.

Like the modernists, they were inspired to propagate orthodox Islamic behaviour in the country. Indeed, they are the most puritan of all the parties. Members are discouraged from smoking and gambling, and women are encouraged to wear the jilbab or traditional Muslim headscarf.

But besides this modernist zeal, there are also explicit political objectives such as abolishing the Pancasila state ideology.One can argue that differences in political and economic ideologies cut across the traditionalist and modernist divide. One example is the desire of smaller parties like the PPIM and PNU to introduce the syariah or Islamic law in the country. They want Indonesia to follow in the footsteps of Algeria, Iran or Sudan.

The possibility of this happening, though, is slim given that other parties across the board do not aspire to marry religious doctrine and state policy.

More significantly, the largest of them, PPP, is opposed to it. Senior party executives tell The Straits Times that despite the PPP being more aggressive in pushing for policies that favour Muslims, it will never support calls for Islamic law “because Indonesia is not Iran”.

What this indicates is that the traditionalist PPP supports the political status quo and treads carefully on policy initiatives. This week, its economic chief Syaiful Anwar Hussein was reported to have said that if it comes to power, it will favour the policies of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

“Their economic policies on Indonesia are on track,” he says.

The modernist PBB, perceived by many to be “radical” given its calls to amend the 1945 Constitution, is very much a moderate in its economic aims. Party executive Fadli Zon says that like the PPP, it treads very carefully on wealth redistribution and cooperatives.

But even if the radical measures sought by some are anathema, the parties could still colour economic policies with increasing calls for social justice.

Most of the smaller parties, like the modernist PMB and traditionalist Indonesian Muslim Awakening Party (KAMI), are leading the push for an “economy that shelters the poor”. They are talking about wealth redistribution and interest-free banking for Muslims.

The PPP might support IMF and market-oriented policies, but it, too, seems to have been bitten by the “populist bug” with its pledges to help the poor by promoting small businesses.

But it could be that most parties – even secular ones – are jumping on to the bandwagon of populist policies to garner as many votes as possible in the election.

Cleavages in cultural identity and policies give the impression of a less-than-united Islamic front. Political expediency could, however, force many of the parties to gravitate towards four main parties, three of which are outside the Islamic fold. The PPP could attract traditionalist parties to its cause. But so could PKB, led by charismatic Islamic leader Abdurrahman
Wahid who espouses the Pancasilaist views of religious pluralism. Ironically, PKB’s foundation is very much based on NU foundations.

Likewise for PAN. Dr Amien Rais’ party is closest to the Muhammadiyah modernists, and this makes it a natural partner for the Justice Party, PBB and PMB. However, PAN’s recent overtures to Pancasilaist parties like the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-S) and PKB could alienate it from Muslim parties that are exclusive.

The last piece of this jigsaw puzzle is Golkar. In form and in party rallies around the country, it presents itself as a Pancasila party open to non-Muslims.

But in substance, Golkar has increasingly become Muslim-oriented in the last five years, presenting itself as the managerial face of modernist Islam.

Despite the rhetoric of several modernist parties that they do not want to be associated with Golkar, inter-party linkages through the Association of Muslim Intellectuals for Indonesia (ICMI) make an alliance almost inevitable. Modernist parties like the Justice Party and PBB are led by ICMI figures, who are close to President B.J. Habibie.

Any possible “Islamic rainbow coalition” will depend a great deal on linkages of the Islamic parties to at least one of the major parties – Golkar, PAN, PKB or PPP – that will act as a strong moderating influence to radical elements in the Islamic camp.

Select the fields to be shown. Others will be hidden. Drag and drop to rearrange the order.
  • Image
  • SKU
  • Rating
  • Price
  • Stock
  • Availability
  • Add to cart
  • Description
  • Content
  • Weight
  • Dimensions
  • Additional information
  • Attributes
  • Custom attributes
  • Custom fields
Click outside to hide the comparison bar