Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Why a coalition of Islamic parties impossible?

An increase of vote shares for the National Awakening Party (PKB), the National Mandate Party (PAN) and the Unity Development Party (PPP) and the slight decrease of votes for the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) in the April 9 legislative election sparked euphoria among parties that claim to represent Muslim voters.

Not only does the surprising result prove the pre-election surveys that predicted a decline in the performance of Islamic parties wrong but it also places the parties in a strategic bargaining position vis-à-vis nationalist-oriented parties, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the Golkar Party and the Gerindra Party — the top three in the standings, in shaping coalitions for the presidential election.

Support has loomed for the Islamic-based parties to form a coalition to nominate a president, given the fact that their combined votes exceed the threshold.

These Islamic parties could perhaps emulate the 1999 move of the Axis Force pioneered by PAN founder Amien Rais to catapult Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) leader Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid to the presidency at the expense of Megawati Soekarnoputri, chairwoman of the PDI-P, which had won the legislative election that year.

The idea of reviving the alliance of Islamic parties sounds seductive and tempting.

However, this scenario is very unlikely to happen.

The truth is that it would be better for any of the Islamic-based parties to join forces with secular and nationalist parties. Leaders of the Islamic parties, however, would not surrender to other Islamic parties. Their interests would overlap each other.

Like other parties in this country, the Islamic-based parties are actually pragmatic, if not opportunistic, and tend to form alliances with any party that stands a big chance of winning the presidency. Their aim of joining the next government is too obvious, as no party would risk becoming an opposition force in the first place.

It is no exaggeration to conclude that the Islamic aspirations the parties are promoting are only a tactic to attract Muslim voters.

The PKB, for example, exploited the popularity of dangdut singer Rhoma Irama and former Constitutional Court chief justice Mahfud MD to woo voters.

While the tactic worked, there is no guarantee that either of their names will be offered to a coalition partner as a vice presidential candidate.

It will come as no surprise if PKB chairman Muhaimin Iskandar seizes the best opportunity on the table, offering himself to run as the running mate for either presidential candidates Joko “Jokowi” Widodo or Prabowo Subianto.

PKB leaders will accept the more beneficial scenario. The party most likely to follow in the footsteps of PKB is PAN, as the two are part of the outgoing administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

However, both PKB and PAN are by nature in competition, as their traditional voters, NU and Muhammadiyah respectively, are archrivals on both social and political stages. The rivalry was evident in the race for the posts of education and culture minister and religious affairs minister under Yudhoyono’s Cabinet.

The Islamic aspirations the parties are promoting are only a tactic to attract Muslim voters.

Also note that indeed PAN has approached the PDI-P, offering its chairman Hatta Rajasa to be Jokowi’s running mate. As Indonesian politics is unpredictable, PAN may also accept Golkar’s or Gerindra’s offer to form a coalition. NU and Muhammadiyah will only unite, however, when they face their common enemy: the PKS.

On the other hand, it is hard to imagine that PKS, with its strong new Islamist activism under the shadow of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood ideology, will bow to the leadership of traditionalist NU. Like other parties, the PKS is both pragmatic and opportunistic, but when it comes to interpreting Islam, it differs from the NU.

The PKS looks more comfortable joining Golkar or Gerindra, although it does not negate any opportunity offered by the PDI-P.

The only party with neutrality to ally with any Islamic party in the presidential race due to the complexity of its voters is the United Development Party (PPP). The majority of the voters come from the NU.

However, PPP chairman Suryadharma Ali triggered infighting with the party for attending a Gerindra campaign event, while at the same time, other PPP leaders want to join the more promising PDI-P coalition. The internal rift may cost Suryadharma his position in the party.

With the PKB unlikely to lead a coalition of Islamic parties, it is impossible for PAN, PKS and PPP to take over the responsibility due to their insignificant share of the vote. Thus, unless a miracle is descends from heaven, a coalition of Islamic parties in the presidential election is unlikely to materialize.

Now, along with the rise of conservatism in the country, political Islam seemed to revive in the election.

However, Islam as a political power remains far from a threat to the secular attitude adopted by most Indonesian Muslims in politics. It is the pragmatism of Islamic party leaders that still prevails.
The writer is a lecturer at Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University, Yogyakarta.


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