The Battle for Indonesia

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By: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

While the president is empowering and appeasing Islamists for personal
political gain, the new Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court is
courageously striking out against unconstitutional Sharia bylaws. The battle
for Indonesia is heating up and the 2009 elections could prove decisive.


To win, exercise and maintain power, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is
dependent on Islamic parties with whom he has entered into alliances and/or
made quid pro quo deals. Consequentially, Islamisation and polarisation are
advancing in Indonesia and religious liberty is suffering. The situation is
similar to what occurred in Pakistan under Musharraf. However in Pakistan
Musharraf made the MMA (a coalition of six Islamist parties) powerful through
gerrymandering and poll rigging whilst in Indonesia the Prosperous Justice
Party (Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (PKS) an Islamist party) has become powerful
and influential through its genuine grassroots popularity, achieved by
strategy and sheer hard work. The result is the same though: the president is
dependent on Islamist support, a situation pragmatic Islamists are only too
willing to exploit. Indeed, the more the president needs the Islamists, the
more they can demand of him. They have already forced the banning of Ahmadiyya
teachings and the closure of numerous Christian churches and institutions,
including the 1,400-student Arastamar Evangelical School of Theology in East
Jakarta. (Link 1)


Meanwhile, on Friday 22 August Indonesia's newly elected Chief Justice of the
Constitutional Court, Mohammad Mahfud MD, called for the scrapping of
Sharia-based bylaws because they discriminate against minority groups and thus
run counter to the constitution and state ideology of Pancasila, which among
other things promotes secularism and equity. Mahfud told a gathering of top
military officers, "Sharia bylaws are not constitutionally or legally correct
because, territorially and ideologically, they threaten our national
integrity." A new body will be created to review all regional bylaws, with the
recommendation that those deemed unconstitutional be revoked. (Link 2)


In September 2004 Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) became Indonesia's first
directly elected president when he won the presidential election in a second
round run-off against Megawati Sukarnoputri of the Indonesian Democratic Party
– Struggle (PDI-P). He managed to win even though his party, the Democratic
Party, is very small. (The Democratic Party was created in September 2001 with
the sole purpose of nominating SBY for the presidency.)

After the first round of voting in July 2004, Megawati, whose secular PDI-P
was the second largest party in the legislature, built a coalition that
included Golkar (the largest party) as well as several other significant
parties. Even though SBY had secured Golkar's Jusuf Kalla (a Muslim
nationalist more than a secular nationalist) as his running mate, SBY still
required the support of every Islamic party he could find if he were win the
presidency. SBY went into the run-off backed by a coalition that included the
three largest Islamic parties: the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU)-sponsored National
Awakening Party (PKB), the radical Islamist (of Muslim Brotherhood origins)
Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), and the Muhammadiyah-founded National Mandate
Party (PAN). No doubt SBY also benefited from the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) June
2004 fatwa that declared it haram (forbidden by Islam) to elect a woman as

SBY may have been the president, but inside the legislature he struggled to
get his policies passed against PDI-P and Golkar opposition, that is until VP
Jusuf Kalla was made chairman of Golkar and the Saudi-educated Islamist Nur
Wahid, the founder and then chairman of the PKS, was made the Speaker of the
People's Consultative Assembly.

Democracy came to Indonesia in 1998, at the height of the global Islamic
revival. Now a decade later, while pro-jihadist, terror-perpetrating Islamic
groups have been largely subdued, political Islam has been thriving. Many in
the West regard this not as a challenge to but as a victory for Indonesian
democracy. But this is because they fail to see that groups like the jihadist
Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and the political PKS differ only in methods, not in
goals. The threat posed by political Islam is profound. As Sadanand Dhume
notes, while JI believes in bombs and is revolutionary, PKS believes in
protests and polls and is evolutionary, yet both groups have the creation of
an Islamic Caliphate as their ultimate goal. JI might get all the headlines
but the PKS has positioned itself in parliament and quietly matastasised.

(For a comprehensive analysis of the rise of political Islam in Indonesia, in
particular the phenomenal rise of the PKS, SBY's indispensable ally, see:
"Radicals March on Indonesia's Future" By Sadanand Dhume
Far Eastern Economic Review, 15 May 2005
http://www.sadananddhume.com/?cat=10 (Sadanand Dhume's site contains numerous
insightful articles on Indonesia.)
A shortened version of this article can be found at YaleGlobal:
"Radical Islamic party threatens Indonesia with ballots more than bullets"
http://yaleglobal.yale.edu/display.article?id=6579 .
Sadanand Dhume is a Washington-based journalist. He served as India bureau
chief and an Indonesia correspondent of the Far Eastern Economic Review and
The Wall Street Journal Asia. He is an Associate Fellow of the Asia Society, a
non-partisan, non-profit educational institution that strives at "preparing
Asians and Americans for a shared future". "My Friend the Fanatic: Travels
with an Indonesian Islamist", his book which charts the rise of radical Islam
in Indonesia, was recently published by Text Publishing in Australia.)
Dhume writes (2005): "Less than a decade ago, Indonesia appeared likely to
evolve as a Muslim version of Thailand -- culturally self-confident,
economically dynamic, comfortable with both an ancient past and a modern
future. Today the odds favour an Indonesia that looks more like a South-east
Asian Pakistan -- culturally confused, economically stagnant, caught between a
modern elite and medieval clerics, a recipient of foreign aid rather than
foreign investment.

"Needless to say, the Justice Party is not the only hard-line Islamist group
in Indonesia. But because it's easily the most powerful, its success or
failure will be the most reliable bellwether of Islamic extremism in the country."

As Dhume notes, the PKS has little chance of gaining a majority before 2014.
But the PKS does not need a majority to get hold of the reins. They only need
to pragmatically position themselves so that those in power are dependent on

Dhume's 2005 article concludes: "The party [PKS] faces an internal challenge.
It needs to reach out to new supporters while maintaining both discipline and
ideological coherence. This means devising ways to satisfy cadres without
alienating less committed voters. Expect more anti-Israel demonstrations in
front of the US Embassy."

However Israel does not appear to be the PKS's chosen subject around which to
rally support and garner recruits. It appears the Islamists have chosen a
subject much more tangible and closer to home: the "threat" to Islam caused by
the growth of Christianity and the "offence" to Islam caused by those deemed
heterodox, such as Ahmadiyya, and unIslamic, such as everything progressive,
Western and secular.

As Indonesia heads towards the 2009 presidential elections, SBY is even more
dependent on the Islamic parties than ever as VP Jusuf Kalla has become
extremely powerful in his own right. Furthermore, Golkar and PDI-P are
considering forming a strategic alliance to contest the 2009 polls. (Link 3)

If a Golkar - PDI-P alliance eventuates, SBY to stay in power will be left
with little option but to use the increasingly visible, vocal, popular and
influential PKS as his powerbase. It is important to note that while Golkar
and PDI-P are clearly the largest parties in the legislature their combined
weight only just matches that of the combined weight of the numerous smaller
parties in the Islamic bloc.

Should Golkar and PDI-P form an alliance and win the presidential elections,
then, if there is enough courage and conviction, the Islamists can be reined
in and marginalised. However if a Golkar - PDI-P alliance loses to the Islamic
bloc, or if Golkar and PDI-P go their separate ways each seeking the support
of Islamic parties, then the Islamists will be ascendant. The 2009 polls are
thus hugely significant in the battle for Indonesia.

Elizabeth Kendal


1) Indonesia: Religious Liberty, Polarisation and Danger
WEA RLC News & Analysis, 20 June 2008
By WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

Indonesian Christian campus attack
The Arastamar Evangelical School of Theology has reluctantly agreed to shut
its 20-year-old campus in east Jakarta after a violent Islamic pogrom in July,
launched from a nearby mosque to cries of "Allah Akbar" (God is great) with
the stated aim of forcing the school's closure, left 1,400-students displaced
and 18 wounded.
"The government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, which relies on the
support of Islamic parties in Parliament, is struggling to balance deep
Islamic traditions and a secular constitution. With elections coming next
April, the government seems unwilling to defend religious minorities, lest it
be portrayed as anti-Islamic in what is the world's most populous
Muslim-majority country."
(See also Compass Direct http://www.compassdirect.org/content/index.php?id=25
search "Indonesia".)

2) New court head slams sharia bylaws
Abdul Khalik, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta, 23 August 2008

"Less than 24 hours after being sworn in as the new head of the Constitutional
Court, Moh. Mahfud MD on Friday slammed regional administrations for enacting
sharia-inspired bylaws. . ."

Sharia bylaws illogical, unnecessary: Experts
Abdul Khalik, The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Mon, 08/25/2008 11:14 AM |

"The enforcement of many sharia-based ordinances in the country has been
denounced by several legal experts as a violation of basic human rights. . ."

Letters to the editor on Mafud's anti-sharia stamement

3) Top Golkar, PDIP figures raise possibility of coalition. 25 August 2008

Golkar to Team Up With Megawati, 26 August 2008

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