From 30 January to 3 February 2007, the biggest Muslim party in Indonesia, the Unity Development Party (Partai Persatuan Pembangunan, PPP), is holding its Sixth National Conference in Jakarta. Besides electing new party president, the party is also preparing new strategies to face the 2009 General Elections which is two years away.
Having learnt from the failures in the previous elections, the party is eager to improve its performance in the upcoming elections. Faced with fractured party politics, the party needs to find a strategy to consolidate the diverse elements in the society for its advantage. With other Muslim parties struggling to consolidate themselves, it is a perfect moment for the PPP to reformulate and reposition itself as the sole platform for Muslim politics.
If we look back at the history of party politics in Indonesia, we will find that in the 1950s, there was Masyumi (Majelis Syuro Muslimin Indonesia), a party created by the Japanese government in 1943 to become a common platform for Muslim politics. Diverse elements of Muslim politics were represented in this party. The NU, the Muhammadiyah, the Syarikat Islam as well as other Muslim groups merged into this body. Masyumi became a common platform for Indonesian Muslims to voice their political aspirations.
However, history told different story in which persisting conflict of interests in the Masyumi resulted into its split. Disappointed with the party policy, Nahdatul Ulama (NU), the biggest element in the Masyumi, decided to abandon the party to become an independent political body. This split resulted in the failure of Indonesian Muslims to win the 1955 General Elections. They failed to convert their majority number into a single, united voice in a single common platform. Masyumi secured 20.9 percent while the NU gained 18.4 percent. The biggest winner was the nationalist group under the Partai Nasional Indonesia (PNI) which gained 22.3 percent of the total votes.
Had there been no split in the Masyumi, they would have been able to win the elections.
The change of guards in the Indonesian politics in the late 1960s was followed with the change of pattern of interaction in the party politics. The multiparty system adopted in the 1950s was abandoned and a simplified party system with two political parties and one service group was introduced. The nationalists and non-Muslim groups were forced to merge into one single party called the Partai Demokrasi Indonesia (PDI) while the Islamic leaning groups like the NU, Parmusi, PSII and the Perti were merged into the Partai Pembangunan Indonesia (PPP). A service group called Golkar was established by the regime as its political vehicle to run the country.
Being a common platform for Muslim politics with Islam as its ideology, the PPP succeeded in consolidating the diverse elements of Muslim politics by securing 29 and 28 percents of the total votes in the 1977 and 1982 General Elections respectively. The success of the PPP forced the regime to introduce a common ideology, the Pancasila, as the sole national ideology for all political as well as non-political groupings to eliminate any existing emotional influence of such an ideology like Islam. This policy resulted in the significant reduction of supports for the PPP in which in the 1987 and 1992 Elections, PPP only secured 16 and 17 percents of the total votes respectively.
The absence of Islam as party ideology was one of the reasons for this poor showing. The disappointment of the NU, an important element in the PPP, towards party leadership and the allocation of seats in the Parliament were other reasons for this significant drop of support for the PPP.
Determined to regain its position as a common platform for Muslim politics, the PPP reintroduced Islam as its ideology after the fall of Suharto. But in an era of openness and pluralism, the PPP faces stiff challenges from other Muslim groups. In the last two elections, 1999 and 2004, the Muslim votes were split into diverse Islamic leaning political parties like the PKB, PAN, PKS and other small parties like PBB and PSII. PPP’s leadership failed to utilize its status as an ‘old timer’ as a unifying body for these diverse elements of Muslim politics. It only secured fourth and third position in the last two elections respectively with meager total votes of 10 to 12 percent.
With 2009 elections is two years away, can PPP consolidate Muslim politics? Will the politicians, who are always loaded with ambition and greed to grab power, understand this situation and put aside their egos for common good?
If we look back at the history of Muslim politics in Indonesia, it is unlikely that the PPP can consolidate itself as a common platform for Muslim politics in Indonesia. Even though ideology is important, it cannot guarantee that the PPP will succeed in playing a unifying role. The results of the last two elections are enough to support this statement.
The failure of Muslim politicians to see bigger picture and accept differences for the sake of common, bigger target contributed to the failure of creating a common platform for Indonesian Muslims. To avoid the same failure, honesty and good will among Muslim politicians are necessary to achieve this goal.
Thus, whoever to be elected as the new PPP’s president must understand this situation and utilize this perfect moment for the utmost benefit of the party, the Indonesian Muslims, and for the sake of the future of Indonesia.