, The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Thu, 06/24/1999 7:31 AM | Opinion
JAKARTA (JP): About 87 percent of the approximately 116 million voters inthe general election were Muslims, but one would not know it from looking at the results of 13 Islamic parties during the June 7 polls.
Of the Islamic parties, only the United Development Party (PPP), the Crescent Star Party (PBB) and the Justice Party (PK) fared relatively well. By last count on Monday, PPP won 9.75 percent of the vote, a decent showing, thanks to its old infrastructure and outreach built under the oppressive New Order regime. Besides, many people still remember the redeeming show it put on during last November's Special Session of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), when PPP politicians walked out of some sessions in their fight against longtime military privilege and for neutrality of civil servants.
The newcomer Justice Party took only 1.20 percent of the vote while the PBB, which is not exactly new given its ties with established modern Islamic political forces such as Masyumi, won only 1.56 percent.
""I didn't realize that Muslims are actually a minority in Indonesia,"" sighed an insider from the National Mandate Party (PAN), who actually had no right to complain because his party is not an Islamic one. ""I mean, evenin areas which are traditionally PPP strongholds, it's PDI Perjuangan that won.""
He mumbled something about how the Indonesian Council of Ulemas (MUI) andMuhammadiyah's recent call on Muslims to vote for parties which campaign for national interests and field Muslim legislative candidates came too late to be effective.
Yet who could say the poll results would have been different had the MUI call -- which originated from the belated public revelation that Megawati Soekarnoputri's PDI Perjuangan fielded a disproportionately large number ofnon-Muslim candidates -- been issued earlier?
MUI chairman K.H. Ali Yafie said in a recent interview that the body was merely carrying out its duty to remind Muslims of the stance they should take in the face of a particular situation, regardless of the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of the call.
Some consider the Islamic parties' poor showing to be a heavy blow, believing it is an indicator of the failure of Islamic da'wah (propagation). This stance, however, was quickly refuted by Syuhada Bahri, an ulema affiliated with the Indonesian Islamic Propagation Council (DDII).He said in a recent interview with the Sabili Islamic biweekly that there was no such thing as failure in da'wah.
""As a duty, the da'wah has been carried out ... but da'wah in the sense of a movement to build a society has yet to be maximized. We have not been successful in (convincing Muslims) that Islam is a way of life,"" he said.
""We have only been able to tell people that Islam is (merely) ubudiyyah (ritual of worship) and hablumminallah (an interaction between humankind and Allah) ... while (teaching about) rites that have to do with hablumminannas (interaction among humankind) in regard to economics and politics have yet to succeed.
""On the other hand, there are Muslims who try to segregate religion from politics, thus the saying 'Islam yes, Islamic parties no',"".
Among the most reasonable responses may have come from Justice Party presidential candidate Didin Hafidhuddin, who noted there were ibroh (lessons) that could be taken from the defeat for future endeavors. He cited how some Islamic parties only visited their constituents when campaign time rolled around, and how some Muslim leaders mistakenly segregated Islamic teaching from politics when the Koran actually enjoins good leadership in the same breath with strong faith.
Citing Prophet Muhammad's saying ""Find me not in palaces but in the dwellings of the poor"", Didin urged that future dissemination of Islamic teaching should be geared to touch neglected segments in society, especially young people and the poor.
""We will never be strong in the legislature when we don't have strong support of society,"" he said.
K.H. Ilyas Ruchiyat, a leader of Nahdlatul Ulama, agreed. Quoted in Sabili, he said Islamic parties were defeated because Muslims still held poor understanding of their religion. ""Some think that it is enough to say their prayers, go on the haj, fast, and that those are signs of Islamic progress here, (despite not understanding) siyasah (politics), muamalah (social duties), how to live as a nation, as a state,"" he said.
""(There should be effort to disseminate) Islamic teaching about economics, politics ... state affairs ... ""
Put in simplistic terms, the blame for why Islamic parties suffered a defeat should be placed squarely at the doorstep of those who used Islam and Muslims as mere political commodities. They included leaders of certainpolitical parties -- such as Golkar, PAN, the National Awakening Party (PKB) or even PDI Perjuangan -- who claimed they were not Islamic parties but appealed to, even manipulated, their constituents' religious sentiments.
Some political experts are apt to describe those party leaders more as ""politicking Muslims"", in the sense that they play politics without necessarily claiming to do so in the name of Islam. This definition is contrasted with Islam politik or ""political Muslims"" who explicitly use Islamic symbols. Under such definitions -- which experts including Frans Magnis Suseno used when explaining the phenomenon of the Association of Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals (ICMI) under Soeharto -- then Yusril Ihza Mahendra of PBB, Hamzah Haz of PPP and Nurmahmudi Ismail of PK would be categorized as political Muslims. Amien Rais and Abdurrahman Wahid as well as PDI Perjuangan and Golkar leaders would fall into the category of politicking Muslims.
The approach may have held true during Soeharto's time, but the current situation may call for a different explanation because evidence abounds that politicking Muslims today have used or misused, as the case may be, Islamic symbols.
Some clerics affiliated with the PKB, for instance, issued an edict in West Java enjoining ahlus sunnah wal jamaah, virtually all Muslims in Indonesia, to vote for PKB. An edict is a serious matter; the followers of the clerics would certainly think they committed a sin if they did not follow through.
Another instance occurred with clerics in villages of Central Java who told voters that choosing PKB was an Islamic thing to do, while choosing PDI Perjuangan would put food prices up.
Now, if millions of Indonesian Muslims voted for PKB, does it mean they would reap the heavenly reward (pahala) as promised in Islam for those who do good deeds and avoid sin? Is the PKB victory identical to a Muslim victory?
If one is a loyal follower of the largest Islamic organization, NahdlatulUlama (NU), whose leader Abdurrahman Wahid repeatedly insisted the PKB was ""the egg"" of NU while the other parties were ""the chicken droppings"", one would certainly vote for PKB, regardless of the fact those other parties made Islam their ideology while PKB did not.
If one is an admirer of Amien Rais, the former Muhammadiyah chairman, onewould certainly be forgiven for thinking that Islamic parties are simply not good enough for one. Why? Because that was what Amien implied when he rejected the offer to head PBB by saying ""it's a shirt which is too small for me"" and went on to set up a non-Islamic party. Amien had every right todo so, but the campaign by some people to portray the possible coalition between PAN, PDI Perjuangan and PKB as justified Islamically would be stretching matters because neither PAN nor PKB are Islamic.
We are reminded that passing blame is passe, and therefore it would apparently be more meaningful to advance the discourse to other factors that may have contributed to the defeat of Islamic parties. One such factoris the reason why Indonesian Muslims voted for the so-called secular PDI Perjuangan rather than Islamic parties.
Ask supporters of Megawati Soekarnoputri why they voted for her party, and chances are they will say that they sympathized with her ""suffering"" under Soeharto's New Order regime. In fact, she has become the epitome of that suffering, and they identify with her, never mind that countless Muslim leaders across the country suffered even crueler fates, including torture, arbitrary detention and even death at the hands of Soeharto, especially during the first 20 years of his regime.
Unfortunately, Muslims here do not have their Islamic equivalent of Megawati, a symbol of resistance against Soeharto.
To many people, whoever Soeharto hates is a hero, especially a high-profile figure of founding president Sukarno's eldest daughter. One might have been among those who helped topple Sukarno in the 1960s, but times have changed. Suddenly one is Marhaenis, dusting off old copies of Sukarno's Di Bawah Bendera Revolusi (Under the Banner of the Revolution), putting up the founding president's poster in the living room and supporting his family.
Even the ultimate unlikely figure of Probosutedjo, a tycoon and Soeharto's half brother, is now a Marhaenist after being a Soehartoist for God knows how long.
Another, more honest reason why Islamic parties were defeated is because they are either so new or so lacking in resources to gain exposure that many Indonesian Muslims do not know about them. Most Muslims know more or less about PPP, but Justice Party's constituents are generally still limited among the already devout Muslims, either inside or outside the campuses.
The PBB enjoys strong support from elements who have good memories about Masyumi, but there are other parties which in fact call themselves Masyumi.There are the PSII and PSII-1905, there are Nahdlatul Ummat Party and Partai Kebangkitan Umat or Muslim Community Awakening Party, all sharing similarities.
Another factor is that many of the Islamic parties, lacking figureheads as powerful as Megawati, also lack the vision to make up for their shortcomings. So far, only PPP, PBB and PK have at least made their agenda loud and clear. PBB, for instance, has a strong message for constitutional reform, which is a fundamental step toward democratization, while PK promises a fight against the military's dual function. The messages of the other Islamic parties, on the other hand, have yet to reach Indonesian Muslims.
Now, PDI Perjuangan may not have a strong message for political reform given its conservative outlook about important reform agendas, such as the amendment of the 1945 Constitution and the abolition of the military's social political role, but it has an enemy called Golkar and the so-called status quo forces. It is so much easier to identify with Megawati's fight against Golkar, which to millions is the bringer of suffering. ""As long as she is against Golkar, then I support her,"" is an oft-heard comment.
There are a host of other reasons why Islamic parties fared so poorly in the June 7 elections, but if they managed to scrape past the 2 percent threshold of vote earnings (any parties gaining less than that will not be eligible to contest the 2004 elections), then they will have another five years to tell Indonesians, Muslim or otherwise, that they exist.