Despite nearly 90 percent of Indonesia’s population identifying as Muslim, the country’s Islamic political parties have charted an uneven path since independence. In the first democratic elections in 1955, Islamic parties garnered 43.93 percent of the total vote – but so far, that figure still remains the best showing.
In a column in today’s Jakarta Post, Bahtiar Effendy, a professor at State Islamic University (UIN) in Jakarta, writes that the Democratic europhia after Suharto’s fall encouraged fragmentation. In 1998, for instance, there were 42 Islamic parties.
“The inability of [the parties’] thinkers and activists to put Islam into a context of a not-so-ideological political partnership, and more in line with public interests, has only served to spice up the negative perceptions of political Islam.”
National elections are coming in early 2009 and may be an important test for the continued relevancy of the parties. Read Bahtiar’s full article here.
In related news, Yogyakarta Governor Sultan Hamengkubuwono X said yesterday that he would enter the presidential race. Antara reports the sultan stating: “I am indeed a sultan but not a noble person like 100 years ago and Yogyakarta is now also part of the republic.” Hamengkubuwono also said he sees himself as “an agent of change.” This sets up an interesting dynamic, as the governor is also the leader of the Yogyakarta branch of the Golkar Party, Indonesians leading political party – whose chairman, Joseph Kalla, is the current VP.