JAKARTA – As tens of millions in the world’s most populous Muslim state prepare for April’s legislative elections, Islamic-leaning political parties in Indonesia are losing popularity, in what analysts see as a first glance of a paradox with decades of authoritarian rule.
"I have lost my faith in Islamic parties, and I will vote for nobody," Nisa Ariyani, a 42-year-old teacher who lives in the capital Jakarta, told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Sunday, March 30.
Ariyani is one of voters who have increasingly decided to boycott Islamic parties on April 9.
As the country prepared for elections, Indonesia's five main Muslim parties appeared heading for their worst ever showing at the elections following a series of scandals that have hit different parties.
Islamic parties growth in Indonesia followed the fall of the long authoritarian rule of dictator Suharto.
The dictator, who supported secularism, was against the strong influence of Islam in public life.
After his fall, Indonesia has appeared to have become more Islamic with five parties under the Islamic banner gaining an increasing influence.
Yet, the golden days changed after a series of scandals hit the parties, leading to the fall in their popularity.
The combined vote share for the country's five main Islamic parties, among 12 running in the parliamentary elections, fell to around 26 percent at the 2009 legislative polls from around 34 percent a decade earlier.
A further decline was expected in 2014 elections according to Dodi Ambardi, a director at the Indonesian Survey Institute, who predicted their support will fall to only 15 percent in the coming elections.
No Islamic party is expected to do well enough to put a candidate forward for the presidential polls in July.
A party or coalition of parties must win 20 percent of the seats in parliament or 25 percent of the national vote at the April elections to do so.
Indonesia is the most populous Muslim state where Muslims make up 80% percent of the 220 million population.
Politics Not Religion
Sixteen years after Suharto’s resignation, voters were expected to focus on the party’s politics rather than religion to vote in April elections.
"In choosing which party they will vote for, Muslim voters no longer think of their religion but rather the party's track record and policies," Ambardi told AFP.
Noorhaidi Hasan, an expert in Islam and politics, shared a similar opinion, asserting that Islamic parties have failed to developed into well-run organizations.
This failure, according to Hasan, was a result of a mistaken belief that pious Muslims would vote for them regardless of their politics.
"Islamic parties are too ideological, offering an Islamic ideology but no other action," said Hasan, from Sunan Kalijaga Islamic university in Yogyakarta, on the main island of Java.
He added that increasing signs of Islam in everyday life did not necessarily mean people would automatically vote for Muslim parties.
"Middle-class Muslims are not expressing their religion for the sake of religion -- but for social status and lifestyle," he said.
Despite their travails, Muslim parties are still likely to attract some support such as the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), Indonesia’s biggest Islamic party."Support for the PKS is like a pillow — once a burden is lifted, it will return to its normal shape quickly and easily," said party spokesman Dedi Supriadi.
And Islamic parties could still remain influential by providing support to the bigger parties, observers believe.
Coalition governments are the norm under Indonesia's complex electoral system, and there are currently four Islamic parties in the six-party coalition of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
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