Indonesia’s Election: The Rise of Political Islam

Although Indonesia’s election is over, with former general Prabowo Subianto sullenly accepting the voters’ decision to return incumbent Joko Widodo to the presidential palace, the divisive campaign has caused long-term consequences, including the emergence of a clear line between moderate and hardline Islamists that doesn’t bode well for the future.

The General Election Commission will announce official results on May 22. The so-called quick count by Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting (SMRC) shows Jokowi won a decisive victory in vote-rich Central and East Java –77.46 percent and 66.16 percent respectively, a result of the appeal to the moderate Muslim base by Jokowi choosing Ma'ruf Amin, a cleric and respected figure in Nahdlatul Ulama, as his vice-presidential candidate. Nahdlatul Ulama is a traditionalist Sunni Islamic movement, with an estimated 90 million members.

Rising Islamic rage

But the big concern, and probably the more ominous message, is in Prabowo’s decisive victory in areas that were once the base of Darul Islam, which once fought for a state based on Islamic sharia. Prabowo dominated votes on the island of Sumatra, especially West Sumatra and Aceh with 85.03 percent and 83.11 percent respectively. In Banten, West Java and South Sulawesi, Prabowo pulled 62.56 percent, 59.98 percent and 58.48 percent of the votes respectively.

The intensity of feeling in the fundamentalist areas is all out of proportion to the size of Jokowi’s victory, and represents growing conservatism all the way across society, with rising religious feeling and constantly creeping conservative dress and demeanor in a society long considered laid-back and moderate.

Several religious figures and organizations such as Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama have called for national reconciliation to reduce tension between political elites and supporters of the presidential candidates. The former Chief of the Constitutional Court, Mahfud MD, in an interview on local media said reconciliation is necessary to rebuild national unity.

"When reviewing at the distribution (area of ​​victory), Jokowi lost in several provinces that were ‘rather hot’," Mahfud said. The provinces where Prabowo won were “once considered hardline related to religion such as West Java, West Sumatra, Aceh and South Sulawesi."

Prabowo’s followers later protested. “Reconciliation is carried out when there is a conflict, said said a spokesman for the Prabowo campaign team, Dahnil Anzar Simanjuntak. “Election competition is not a conflict. Those who call for reconciliation are those who sow the conflict by stigmatizing Prabowo's voters as Hardliner, Radical, Anti-Tolerance."

Islamic state lost to history

Darul Islam (DI) emerged in 1948, aiming to create an Islamic state during the nation's independence struggle, by launching rebellions in several regions. Sekarmadji Kartosoewirjo led a rebellion in West Java, Kahar Muzakkar in South Sulawesi and Daud Beureueh in Aceh.

Sidney Jones, the director of The Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) in a study entitled "Darul Islam's Ongoing Appeal" published in Tempo in 2010, said that Kartosoewirjo in particular developed a justification for jihad against a kafir state (first the Dutch, then a secular republic) that includes many elements of what we now know as salafi jihadism.

In 1965, the strongman Suharto used Darul Islam for his own political interests, arming them to eliminate the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) and using them to secure a victory in West Java in his first election. He later turned on them, jailing and executing their leaders. But even though the Islamist organization was banned by the government, its ambition of establishing a state based on Islamic law is still alive.

Active support for Khailafah

The International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development (INFID) in its report entitled "Urgency and Effective Strategy for Preventing Extremism in Indonesia" reveals that at least four groups are still actively supporting khilafah, ​​a state based on sharia law, including; First, Ikhwanul Muslimin (IM) or the Muslim Brotherhood, which inspired a number of figures to articulate their political aspirations by forming the Justice Party (PK), which was renamed to be the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS).

PKS and eight other parties are expected to pass the 4 percent parliamentary threshold and have representatives in the national parliament. The other eight parties were the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) – Jokowi’s party – which obtained 18.89 percent of the vote, Prabowo’s Gerindra Party 12.68 percent, Golkar Party 11.8 percent, the National Awakening Party (PKB) 10.14 percent, the National Democratic Party (Nasdem) 9, 05 percent, Democratic Party 7.63 percent, the National Mandate Party (PAN) 6.56 percent, and United Development Party (PPP) 4.4 percent.

The PDI-P, Golkar, PKB, Nasdem, and PPP support Jokowi. Gerindra, PKS, PAN, and the Democrat Party supported Prabowo. PKS grew from 6.79 percent in 2014 to 8.18 percent in 2019 based on quick counts. PKS and PAN dominated votes in West Java and Sumatra. West Sumatra Province, where Prabowo won big, since 2010 has been led by the governor from PKS, Irwan Prayitno. He now serves in the second period of government, which will be completed in 2021.

The second group is Hizbut-Tahrir (HT), which inspired the founding of Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia (HTI). IM and HT infiltrate educational levels – especially universities, to prepare cadres who will take a role in the fields of education, politics and government.

Jihadis home from Afghanistan

The third group is the jihadists who returned from the war in Afghanistan. A movement that began to develop in Lampung province in the south of Sumatra Island, which has the same aspirations as DI Kartosoewirjo in West Java.

The four run a jihad strategy in the field of education, often called jihadi tarbiah. Other pro-khilafah groups such as Jamaah Islamiyah (JI), Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT), use violence to fight for their goal.

"They don't necessarily have organizational ties, but they build symbolic solidarity based on religion, which if one of them gets pressure then solidarity to do resistance will strengthen," said INFID in a report published in 2018.

For example, HTI through its spokesperson, Ismail Yusanto, as quoted by local media in August 2018, supported the #2019GantiPresiden movement (2019 replace the president), which was initiated by the PKS chairman, Mardani Ali Sera. The movement was often associated as an anti-Jokowi and at the same time supported Prabowo.

HTI's antipathy to Jokowi was not surprising since the president dissolved the organization in July 2017, not long after the Jakarta gubernatorial election, which was won by a Muslim governor candidate, Anies Baswedan, over Chinese-Christian and Jokowi's ally, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as Ahok.

The Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) in its report entitled "After Ahok: The Islamist Agenda in Indonesia," said HTI and other hardline Islamic groups such as FPI (Islamic Defenders Front), and FUI (Forum Umat Islam) held a religiously charged rally that drew hundreds of thousands to central Jakarta in December 2016 –later known as the 212 movement, demanding the arrest of Ahok on blasphemy charges. The movement has shown the great impact of religion upon politics and arguably marked a shift on the national landscape of power.

Politicians Increasingly Lean on Conservative Support

“It has left many politicians convinced that they need conservative Muslim support to win elections, and it has convinced many Islamists that they can achieve their social and political goals by working through Indonesia’s democratic system,” IPAC said in a statement.

IPAC also mentions several other Islamic organizations that participated in the 212 movements including the Salafi-led modernist network by Islamist preacher Bachtiar Nasir, Wahdah Islamiyah led by Zaitun Rasmin, and religious chanting (zikir) groups. Those entire organization is now under the umbrella of the 212 movement alumni, who in the presidential election supported Prabowo.

The Deputy Executive Director at Center for Political Studies of Indonesia University, Hurriyah, said the vote acquisition map between the two candidates confirmed the assumptions so far that the 2019 Election shows the magnitude of the influence of identity politics.

"In the Muslim voter segment there is a difference between Jokowi and Prabowo. Prabowo's voter is a religious Muslim middle class but his political affiliation is not traditional Muslim. But it is closer to Muhammadiyah," she said. Jokowi's voters are more-traditional Muslim voters such as NU and religious-nationalist groups.

In West Sumatra, for example, the influence of Muhammadiyah was more dominant than NU, so the Ma'ruf-effect was not strong. Jokowi is considered by local communities to be less concerned about the majority Muslims.