Saturday, September 6, 2008


Date: Saturday 6 September 2008
Subj: Indonesia: The Battle for Indonesia
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

While the president is empowering and appeasing Islamists for personal political gain, the new Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court is courageously striking out against unconstitutional Sharia bylaws. The battle for Indonesia is heating up and the 2009 elections could prove decisive.


To win, exercise and maintain power, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is dependent on Islamic parties with whom he has entered into alliances and/or made quid pro quo deals. Consequentially, Islamisation and polarisation are advancing in Indonesia and religious liberty is suffering. The situation is similar to what occurred in Pakistan under Musharraf. However in Pakistan Musharraf made the MMA (a coalition of six Islamist parties) powerful through gerrymandering and poll rigging whilst in Indonesia the Prosperous Justice Party (Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (PKS) an Islamist party) has become powerful and influential through its genuine grassroots popularity, achieved by strategy and sheer hard work. The result is the same though: the president is dependent on Islamist support, a situation pragmatic Islamists are only too willing to exploit. Indeed, the more the president needs the Islamists, the more they can demand of him. They have already forced the banning of Ahmadiyya teachings and the closure of numerous Christian churches and institutions, including the 1,400-student Arastamar Evangelical School of Theology in East Jakarta. (Link 1)


Meanwhile, on Friday 22 August Indonesia's newly elected Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court, Mohammad Mahfud MD, called for the scrapping of Sharia-based bylaws because they discriminate against minority groups and thus run counter to the constitution and state ideology of Pancasila, which among other things promotes secularism and equity. Mahfud told a gathering of top military officers, "Sharia bylaws are not constitutionally or legally correct because, territorially and ideologically, they threaten our national integrity." A new body will be created to review all regional bylaws, with the recommendation that those deemed unconstitutional be revoked. (Link 2)


In September 2004 Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) became Indonesia's first directly elected president when he won the presidential election in a second round run-off against Megawati Sukarnoputri of the Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle (PDI-P). He managed to win even though his party, the Democratic Party, is very small. (The Democratic Party was created in September 2001 with the sole purpose of nominating SBY for the presidency.)

After the first round of voting in July 2004, Megawati, whose secular PDI-P was the second largest party in the legislature, built a coalition that included Golkar (the largest party) as well as several other significant parties. Even though SBY had secured Golkar's Jusuf Kalla (a Muslim nationalist more than a secular nationalist) as his running mate, SBY still required the support of every Islamic party he could find if he were win the presidency. SBY went into the run-off backed by a coalition that included the three largest Islamic parties: the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU)-sponsored National Awakening Party (PKB), the radical Islamist (of Muslim Brotherhood origins) Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), and the Muhammadiyah-founded National Mandate Party (PAN). No doubt SBY also benefited from the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) June 2004 fatwa that declared it haram (forbidden by Islam) to elect a woman as president.

SBY may have been the president, but inside the legislature he struggled to get his policies passed against PDI-P and Golkar opposition, that is until VP Jusuf Kalla was made chairman of Golkar and the Saudi-educated Islamist Nur Wahid, the founder and then chairman of the PKS, was made the Speaker of the People's Consultative Assembly.

Democracy came to Indonesia in 1998, at the height of the global Islamic revival. Now a decade later, while pro-jihadist, terror-perpetrating Islamic groups have been largely subdued, political Islam has been thriving. Many in the West regard this not as a challenge to but as a victory for Indonesian democracy. But this is because they fail to see that groups like the jihadist Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and the political PKS differ only in methods, not in goals. The threat posed by political Islam is profound. As Sadanand Dhume notes, while JI believes in bombs and is revolutionary, PKS believes in protests and polls and is evolutionary, yet both groups have the creation of an Islamic Caliphate as their ultimate goal. JI might get all the headlines but the PKS has positioned itself in parliament and quietly matastasised.

(For a comprehensive analysis of the rise of political Islam in Indonesia, in particular the phenomenal rise of the PKS, SBY's indispensable ally, see:
"Radicals March on Indonesia's Future" By Sadanand Dhume
Far Eastern Economic Review, 15 May 2005
(Sadanand Dhume's site contains numerous insightful articles on Indonesia.)
A shortened version of this article can be found at YaleGlobal:
"Radical Islamic party threatens Indonesia with ballots more than bullets"

Sadanand Dhume is a Washington-based journalist. He served as India bureau chief and an Indonesia correspondent of the Far Eastern Economic Review and The Wall Street Journal Asia. He is an Associate Fellow of the Asia Society, a non-partisan, non-profit educational institution that strives at "preparing Asians and Americans for a shared future". "My Friend the Fanatic: Travels with an Indonesian Islamist", his book which charts the rise of radical Islam in Indonesia, was recently published by Text Publishing in Australia.)

Dhume writes (2005): "Less than a decade ago, Indonesia appeared likely to evolve as a Muslim version of Thailand -- culturally self-confident, economically dynamic, comfortable with both an ancient past and a modern future. Today the odds favour an Indonesia that looks more like a South-east Asian Pakistan -- culturally confused, economically stagnant, caught between a modern elite and medieval clerics, a recipient of foreign aid rather than foreign investment.

"Needless to say, the Justice Party is not the only hard-line Islamist group in Indonesia. But because it's easily the most powerful, its success or failure will be the most reliable bellwether of Islamic extremism in the country."

As Dhume notes, the PKS has little chance of gaining a majority before 2014. But the PKS does not need a majority to get hold of the reins. They only need to pragmatically position themselves so that those in power are dependent on them.

Dhume's 2005 article concludes: "The party [PKS] faces an internal challenge. It needs to reach out to new supporters while maintaining both discipline and ideological coherence. This means devising ways to satisfy cadres without alienating less committed voters. Expect more anti-Israel demonstrations in front of the US Embassy."

However Israel does not appear to be the PKS's chosen subject around which to rally support and garner recruits. It appears the Islamists have chosen a subject much more tangible and closer to home: the "threat" to Islam caused by the growth of Christianity and the "offence" to Islam caused by those deemed heterodox, such as Ahmadiyya, and unIslamic, such as everything progressive, Western and secular.

As Indonesia heads towards the 2009 presidential elections, SBY is even more dependent on the Islamic parties than ever as VP Jusuf Kalla has become extremely powerful in his own right. Furthermore, Golkar and PDI-P are considering forming a strategic alliance to contest the 2009 polls. (Link 3)

If a Golkar - PDI-P alliance eventuates, SBY to stay in power will be left with little option but to use the increasingly visible, vocal, popular and influential PKS as his powerbase. It is important to note that while Golkar and PDI-P are clearly the largest parties in the legislature their combined weight only just matches that of the combined weight of the numerous smaller parties in the Islamic bloc.

Should Golkar and PDI-P form an alliance and win the presidential elections, then, if there is enough courage and conviction, the Islamists can be reined in and marginalised. However if a Golkar - PDI-P alliance loses to the Islamic bloc, or if Golkar and PDI-P go their separate ways each seeking the support of Islamic parties, then the Islamists will be ascendant. The 2009 polls are thus hugely significant in the battle for Indonesia.

Elizabeth Kendal


1) Indonesia: Religious Liberty, Polarisation and Danger
WEA RLC News & Analysis, 20 June 2008
By WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

Indonesian Christian campus attack
Straits Times Asia 
The Arastamar Evangelical School of Theology has reluctantly agreed to shut its 20-year-old campus in east Jakarta after a violent Islamic pogrom in July, launched from a nearby mosque to cries of "Allah Akbar" (God is great) with the stated aim of forcing the school's closure, left 1,400-students displaced and 18 wounded.
"The government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, which relies on the support of Islamic parties in Parliament, is struggling to balance deep Islamic traditions and a secular constitution. With elections coming next April, the government seems unwilling to defend religious minorities, lest it be portrayed as anti-Islamic in what is the world's most populous Muslim-majority country."

2) New court head slams sharia bylaws
Abdul Khalik, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta, 23 August 2008
"Less than 24 hours after being sworn in as the new head of the Constitutional Court, Moh. Mahfud MD on Friday slammed regional administrations for enacting sharia-inspired bylaws. . ."

Sharia bylaws illogical, unnecessary: Experts
Abdul Khalik, The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Mon, 08/25/2008 11:14 AM | Headlines
"The enforcement of many sharia-based ordinances in the country has been denounced by several legal experts as a violation of basic human rights. . ."

Letters to the editor on Mafud's anti-sharia statement

3) Top Golkar, PDIP figures raise possibility of coalition. 25 August 2008
Golkar to Team Up With Megawati, 26 August 2008