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Fluidity of Indonesian Politics and the Islamist PKS

Before the parliamentary election conducted on 9 April 2009, the PKS (Prosperous and Justice Party) has been courting with the incumbent President Yudhoyono and his party, the nationalist PD (Democrat Party). Five years ago, in the 2004 parliamentary election, PKS and PD had become the two new emerging parties. Each of them could surprisingly earn about 7 per cent of the votes. PD had been able to lure nationalist voters who were disappointed with the then two largest nationalist parties (GOLKAR and PDI-P). PKS attracted Muslim constituents who wanted to have a stronger Islamist party who did not campaign for shariah and an Islamic state. Interestingly, both of PD and PKS have similar markets: the urban and educated voters.

However, PKS was not really new in 2004. It was PK (Justice Party) in 1999 parliamentary election, who enthusiastically and publicly campaigned for the implementation of shariah and the creation of an Islamic state. However, it secured less than 2 per cent of the votes. It then transformed into PKS. Not only changing the name, the PKS also adopted a new marketing strategy. It did not explicitly campaign for the implementation of shariah and the creation of an Islamic state. With the new name and marketing strategy, PKS earned its success in the 2004 parliamentary election.

The PD’s success in the 2004 parliamentary election was followed in the 2004 presidential elections, where Yudhoyono, the candidate from PD, supported by the Islamist PKS, defeated Megawati, the candidate of a coalition between the then two largest nationalist parties: PDI-P and Golkar. After the victory of Yudhoyono, who picked up Kalla from Golkar to be his vice president, Golkar shifted its alliance. Golkar switched to Yudhoyono, the winner. Golkar then appointed Kalla as its chairperson. PDI-P chose to be an opposition party, refusing any cabinet position.

The history was almost repeated in the 2009. Before the parliamentary election, Golkar made a coalition with PDI-P to challenge PD who made a coalition with PKS. However, Kalla, the incumbent Vice President, decided to split from Yudhoyono and challenged Yudhoyono at the presidential election. The decision of Kalla, and Golkar, to leave Yudhoyono made Yudhoyono and his PD closer to the PKS. The other large nationalist party, PDI-P, with Megawati as the leader, is clearly out of the option as it is almost impossible to unite Yudhoyono and Megawati. Yudhoyono was then rumoured to pick Hidayat Nur Wahid from PKS to become his vice presidential candidate.

However, the preliminary results and quick counts of the 2009 parliamentary election show that PD is almost sure to be the winner, obtaining about 20 per cent of the votes, three times as high as its performance in 2004. PD also performed much better than Golkar and PDI-P, who secured the second and third winners. At the same time, PKS increased a little to be about 8 per cent of the votes, sitting as the fourth largest party. With this result, as in 2004, Golkar then changed its alliance. It eyed the PD again, hoping to have Kalla back as Yudhoyonono’s vice presidential candidate. Next, Yudhoyono left PKS. Some elites of PKS have been very angry. They felt betrayed by Yudhoyono and its PD. They threatened to quit from the coalition with PD.

As Golkar broke the coalition with PDI-P, PDI-P was then trying to forge a coalition with two others, new and small, nationalist parties-Gerindra and Hanura. Gerindra (Great Indonesia Movement) is led by General Prabowo Subianto, the former son-in-law of former President Suharto, who gained more than 4 per cent of the votes. Hanura (People’s Conscience) is led by General Wiranto, the Military Commander during President Habibie, who obtained almost 4 per cent of the vote.

Then, things changed very quickly. Again, Kalla, and Golkar, left Yudhoyono and PD. Kalla became the presidential candidate from Golkar. Kalla considers resuming the coalition with PDI-P and joining the coalition of three nationalist parties. On the other hand, Yudhoyono would not pick a vice presidential candidate from Golkar. He also remained firm not to bring Hidayat Nurwahid from PKS to be the vice presidential candidate.

What are the alternatives of PKS? First alternative is to support whoever the likely winner of the presidential election, although the vice presidential candidate is not from PKS. Because Yudhoyono is currently the most likely winner, PKS may continue to throw the support to Yudhoyono. Second alternative is to make a coalition with the two large nationalist Golkar and PDI-P and two small nationalist parties of Gerindra and Hanura. However, the four nationalist parties may not be keen to make an alliance with the PKS. The third alternative is to make a coalition with the remaining smaller parties, but the PKS may face an uphill task as a presidential candidate must be supported by at least 25 per cent of the votes.

The last alternative is for the PKS to become an opposition party, whoever the winner of the presidential election. This will make PKS a more respected party—a party which has its own vision, and not simply hungry for power. Being an opposition party, the PKS will be able to raise its popularity if, at the same time, it also shows to the Indonesian people that PKS is really advocating peace and tolerance amidst the rich diversity of Indonesian population and that it does not have any hidden agenda, of creating an Islamic state, as often accused by its rivals.

(Aris Ananta is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore).

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