Due to the increasing influence of Islamic, conservative and even radical views in Indonesian society, observers had expected a rise in the vote for Islamic parties, but this has not been the case: Muslim-based parties have secured less than 24 percent of the total votes; however, this does not mean a reversal of the trends toward a stronger Islamic influence, write Tuty Raihanah Mostarom and V. Arianti in RSIS Commentaries (May 5), published by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (Singapore).
There have been many signs of a growing influence of conservative forms of Islam in Indonesia in recent years, including the introduction of some forms of sharia in several areas, agitation against Ahmadi Muslims (considered as heretical) and trends against pluralism among Islamic teachers, according to several surveys. Considering— among others—the progress of the PKS (Justice Prosperous Party) from 1 percent to 7 percent support at the 2004 general election, several experts had predicted that the role of Islamic parties would be prominent in 2009, but secular-nationalist parties were finally preferred by a strong majority of the voters.
According to Mostarom and Arianti, one of the explanations for this development is the tendency toward a separation of piety and politics in Indonesia, inherited from the Suharto era and its distinction between “cultural Islam” and “political Islam.” Moreover, due to the democratic context of Indonesia, there are other channels than elections and political parties for supporting Islamic views. Finally, secular parties too exploit religious symbols and support some issues on the Islamist agenda.
Thus, it is not surprising that a majority of members of the two largest Muslim organizations (Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah) actually favor secular parties. But partly due to the other avenues available for pushing Islamist views, the outcome of the 2009 elections does not mean that declining votes for Islamic parties will necessarily result in a reversal of Islamic influence on society.
(RSIS Commentaries, http://www.rsis.edu.sg)