Bachtiar Effendy , Jakarta | Sat, 07/11/2009 12:49 PM | Headlines
Again, for the second time this year, the moment of truth is finally here. On July 8, just three hours after the polling stations closed, who would likely serve as Indonesia's president for the next five years was already known. Not only that, based on several quick count results Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono captured the victory of the 2009 presidential election by a landslide. With it, speculations over the merit, value, and objectivity of the polls and surveys that had consistently put Yudhoyono on the top, as well as his two contenders Megawati Soekarnoputri and Jusuf Kalla, were left behind.
But of course the legality and constitutionality of Yudhoyono's triumph must wait until the General Elections Commission (KPU) completes the official counting of the ballots. The waiting period could be much longer if the losing candidates decide to go to the Constitutional Court to contest the election results. The much debated electoral roll and the fraud that allegedly took place during the vote could serve as the basis of the dispute.
Nevertheless, weighing up all the circumstances, it would be very difficult for the Constitutional Court to overturn the election results that are not likely to be significantly different from those of the quick counts. Though one should always bear in mind that not too long ago, because of the compelling evidence, the Constitutional Court nullified the KPU's decision on a number of individuals that had been allocated seats in parliament.
How did Yudhoyono win the presidency? There are a number of factors. I would like, however, to see it from the perspective of Islam - whether or not Islam actually still plays an important role in Indonesian politics.
There is logic to the argument that Islam is an important ingredient in Indonesian politics. The basis of this position has always been the statistical figure that Islam is the majority religion of the country. Eighty seven percent of 230 million Indonesians declare Islam as their religious belief.
Indonesia's political history solidified the close connection between Islam and politics. But it was only briefly that Islam was able to emerge as a single political identity when Muslims formed Masyumi in 1945. For this, Sjahrir predicted that had the first elections been held in 1946, Masyumi would have collected the majority of the votes.
That did not happen. Elections did not take place that year and the political unity of Islam crumbled - Masyumi was abandoned by Sarekat Islam in 1947 and Nahdlatul Ulama in 1952. So when the very first elections were held in 1955, four and two other smaller Islamic parties contested the election. Together they collected almost 44 percent of the vote.
This electoral strength declined dramatically during the 32 years of the New Order. Through a carefully orchestrated political restructuring, the state managed not only to debunk the electoral strength of political Islam, but also the partisan position of Islam in politics. With it, especially in the 1980s, Islam was no longer the monopoly of the existing Islamic party - the PPP.
As early as 1971 many Muslim activists began to cast their support for Golkar. Coupled with the growth of new Islamic political ideas promulgated especially by Nurcholish Majid, the partisan position of Islam in politics was almost completely neutralized.
The resignation of president Soeharto in 1998 changed the pattern of Islam in politics. It differed from the one that had been put into practice, but was still not dramatic enough to be able to make Islam a single political identity. Many political parties that do not have Islamic credentials are still able to enjoy the support of Muslims.
Under these circumstances, Muslim voters were still highly dispersed. They were not distributed to Islamic parties. Collectively, Islamic parties were able to marshal only 37 percent (1999), 38 percent (2004), and 24 percent (2009) of the total votes. This means that there were Muslims who voted for non Muslim-based parties.
In other words, the political position of Islam remained fluid. As such, because Muslims gave their supports to Yudhoyono instead of Amien Rais or Hamzah Haz, two notable Muslim leaders, in the 2004 presidential election.
With regard to the Islamic factor, Yudhoyono's 2009 victory did not differ from that of the 2004 presidential election. Almost all Islamic and Muslim-based parties like the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), the National Mandate Party (PAN), the United Development Party (PPP) and the National Awakening Party (PKB) supported Yudhoyono, even though Kalla was perceived to have more Islamic credentials. But Kalla seemed to have the unofficial support of many leaders of non-political Islamic organizations such as Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah.
The fluidity of Islam in politics became stronger considering the fact that there is always a gap between the leaders and their followers when it comes to voting. Not long after all Islamic and Muslim-based parties gave their allegiances of support for Yudhoyono, many of their leaders said that they could not guarantee that party members would vote the way they would. Even more so, they could not guarantee that party organs would follow their direction. This made the dispersion of votes among Muslims inevitable.
The same story went for non-party Islamic organizations. The unofficial demonstration of support of some of Nahdatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah leaders to either Megawati or Kalla were not fully shared by the Muslim community at the grass- roots level. An independent pollster who conducted a quick count and exit poll indicated that around 16 percent of the Nahdlatul Ulama's votes went to Kalla, 26 percent to Megawati, and 60 percent to Yudhoyono. The distribution of Muhammadiyah support was not significantly different: 19 percent to Kalla, 23 percent to Megawati, and 59 percent to Yudhoyono.
What does this fluidity of Islam mean for Yudhoyono's presidential triumph? One can always argue differently, but I would like to propose that it was Yudhoyono himself who had made the majority of voters attracted to him. Backed by a very well-financed campaign machinery, a targeted percentage of votes in the high 50s or low 60s was easily reachable.
Should this be the case, it can be said that Islam did not play an important role in Yudhoyono's road to victory. A number of religious sentiments, such as the issue of head covering or even religion itself, that were brought to surface, did not seem to influence voters.
However, it would be a mistake to assume that Islam has no function whatsoever in Indonesian politics. Certainly, Islam still has a certain degree of influence in our day-to-day politics, but many Muslims were simply overwhelmed by the political presence of Yudhoyono.
This is not something that Yudhoyono does not notice. Because of that, he does not feel especially grateful to Islamic parties or his Muslim voters. Likewise, he would not punish those who supported his rivals.
His principal reasoning in allocating the available resources, including the Cabinet posts, will be to create a decent and workable arrangement to ensure that his policies will not be challenged in parliament and on the street.
Because of this, Yudhoyono is likely to create a delicate balance among the existing political forces. His leaning toward left or right, liberalism or conservatism, Islamism or secularism - if all these terms are appropriate and able to capture the nuance and substance of our socioeconomic and political realities - will be determined by what he perceives necessary.
The writer is a professor of political science at the State Islamic University