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Sharp drop in support for Islamic political parties in Indonesia

Country/Region: Indonesia, South and East Asia

A survey in Indonesia has revealed a sharp drop in support for Islamic political parties in the country, in a welcome development for the Christian minority.

Indonesian-parliament-Jakarta_4X3.jpg
The Indonesian parliament in Jakarta
CTBTO / CC BY 2.0

The National Survey Institute announced on 26 June the results of the poll, which found that only 15% of respondents backed the four main Islamic parties: the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), National Mandate Party (PAN), United Development Party (PPP) and National Awakening Party (PKB).

This is a sharp decline from the 2009 elections, where the same parties gained 29% of the total vote. In 1998, they enjoyed as much as 38% of the vote.

The survey showed growing support for political moderates, with Golkar the most popular party, followed by the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle and the Democratic Party.     

A spokesman for one of the Islamic parties, PKS, said that Indonesians might be reluctant to vote for Islamic parties because of fears that they are courting extremism.

The drop in support for Islamic political parties is a welcome development for Christians in Indonesia, who have suffered extensive violence and harassment at the hands of Islamists, who want to eliminate Christianity and bring the entire country under sharia law. Since 2003 at least half of Indonesia’s 32 provinces have enacted their own variations of sharia in response to Islamist pressure.

Their violent campaign reached its peak around the turn of the century with a full-scale programme of ethnic cleansing in some areas; an estimated 30,000 Christians were killed and about half a million driven out.

Today Christians in Indonesia are not subjected to the same level of violence, but they do continue to be targeted by Islamists. Churches face much opposition and harassment, and many have been forcibly closed or destroyed.

Christians have not always experienced such hostility in Indonesia; until the 1980s, the country was a model of good relations between Islam and Christianity. When the country gained its independence in 1949, the new nation was founded on the doctrine of Pancasila, which includes belief in one God and a commitment to national unity and communal peace. For many decades this ideology helped to promote stability, peace and equality between different religious communities.

Indonesia is now a long way from those days, but declining support for political Islam is a sign that the country wants to adopt a more moderate position.

Islamists have been allowed to punch well above their weight in recent years, because the authorities and other Muslims are afraid of them. The challenge for the government now is to stand up to the Islamists and resist their demands, which do not appear to reflect the democratic wishes of the Indonesian people.

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