, The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Fri, 06/04/1999 7:08 AM | Opinion
As the official election campaign period winds down to a close, a last minute battle line has been drawn, one pitting Islamic forces against secularist forces. A number of political parties using Islamic symbols are now campaigning to convince voters that the real issue in this election is Islam versus secularism. Even the Indonesian Ulemas Council and the Muhammadiyah have endorsed this line, calling on Muslims, who make up about80 percent of the Indonesian population, to vote on Monday for Islamic parties, or those that truly represent the religion.
This new battle line is clearly aimed at wooing voters away from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), the election front-runner which is considered a major secular-nationalist party. This isonly the latest election ploy designed to hurt the popularity of Megawati Soekarnoputri, the party's chairwoman and presidential candidate. Being thefront-runner among presidential candidates, these series of attacks againsther is understandable in times of elections.
Some media are exaggerating the issue, saying that Muslims are underrepresented in the party. Some Muslim politicians have also warned that if PDI Perjuangan wins, Indonesia would be governed by mostly non-Muslims in the same way it was ruled in the 1970s.
It remains to be seen how Megawati will survive what is clearly the last card being played by certain parties to block her path to the presidency. Megawati has survived all kinds of harassment and intimidation, both mentaland physical, in the past. But if the past is anything to go by, her popularity could even increase with this latest attack against her and her party.
While there is nothing wrong with drawing a new battle line in the elections, it is sad to note that some parties which are using Islamic symbols would stoop so low, such as by dividing the nation along religious lines, to boost their electoral chances. It is one thing to use religious issues in campaign platforms, and completely another to use it to try to divide the nation.
Religion is indeed an important issue in Indonesia's elections because itplays an important part in people's lives. Religion, as far as its moral principles and values are concerned, is essential and should be incorporated into politics. After all, it was the lack, or even absence, ofmoral values among the nation's leaders and politicians that led this country to its current political and economic predicaments. Abuses of power, violations of human rights, and corruption, collusion and nepotism could have been stopped, prevented or at least kept in check if our leadershad some sense of morality.
Moral values and principles, however, are not the monopoly of Islam alone. No party, Islamic or otherwise, can claim to be more religious, or to have higher moral standards than others. But by drawing a battle line that pits Islam against secularism, the parties using Islamic symbols are steering this general election on to a very dangerous, certainly divisive course. They are splitting the nation between what they claim to be the righteous and the infidels. They are just one step short of declaring a holy war. This is a dangerous course that could plunge the country into newsectarian violence. We have already had a taste of this in Ambon. Do we really want to take the risk and let this happen on a large, national scale?
Fortunately, some leaders of major political parties have shown more common sense and have refused to be distracted by this kind of divisive politics. Amien Rais, a former Muhammadiyah chairman who now leads the National Mandate Party (PAN), has warned that the Islam versus secularism polemics, if allowed to continue, could polarize the country at the expenseof the reform movement.
The nation should not lose perspective of the purpose of next week's elections. The true battle line in the elections should remain the one thatAmien, Megawati and Abdurrahman Wahid of the National Awakening Party (PKB)drew together at the start of the official campaign period, one that pits reformists against status quo forces. The real and probably the only issue in the elections is reform versus status quo. This election should be aboutvoting for a party that can truly carry out reform programs, irrespective of whether that party represents a particular religion, or whether it is broad based.