Secular Parties

Islamic Parties

Secular Parties

Democratic Party (Partai Demokrat)

The secular-nationalist Democratic Party was established in 2001 as a political vehicle to carry Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to the presidency in the 2004 elections. Intellectuals, academics, and nationalist politicians supported the initiative. It met success in 2004, winning 55 seats. In the 2009 elections, it nearly tripled this number to 148 seats—neither an easy nor a typical feat for an Indonesian political party. It has also served as a model for other aspiring presidential candidates to form their own political parties.

Hoping to appeal to the most Indonesians possible, the Democratic Party calls itself a moderate, centrist party. It has been so committed to this label that it can be difficult to discern a consistent ideology in the party’s policies. Yudhoyono’s record, however, reveals that the party supports economic liberalization, political and cultural pluralism, and an internationalist outlook.

The Democratic Party has not had an easy last few years. Since its victory in 2009, it has become the target of numerous corruption investigations. As a result, several of its leading members (including the party chairman and party treasurer) have resigned. Other parties have taken advantage of the graft and kickback scandals to criticize the Democratic Party, noting that Yudhoyono made combating corruption one of his primary objectives in the 2009 elections.

Now that Yudhoyono has nearly completed two successful terms as president, he wants to make the Democratic Party a viable political organization in its own right, partly as a way of protecting his legacy. To achieve this, the party is holding a convention for eleven nominees who have been short-listed to become its presidential candidate. The shortlist includes the Indonesian ambassador to the United States, Dino Patti Djalal, Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan, State-Owned Enterprises Minister Dahlan Iskan, and former Indonesian army chief of staff Pramono Edhie Wibowo, who is also Yudhoyono’s brother-in-law and, for now, the rumored front-runner. The winner of the convention will be determined by three national polls, although some suspect that Yudhoyono, as the new party chairman, will make the final determination. The decision is expected to be finalized by May 2014 at the latest, after the legislative elections for the lower house of parliament, the House of Representatives, have concluded.

The Democratic Party’s support is distributed across Indonesia and concentrated in urban areas and the middle class, but this support is dwindling. As a result, the party is not projected to maintain its position as the biggest party in parliament in 2014, although it will likely stay within the top five. 

Golkar (Party of the Functional Groups)

Golkar, a large secular-nationalist party, is the oldest operating party in Indonesia. During the New Order, or the era of former Indonesian president Suharto, who presided over a centralized, authoritarian government for three decades and was forced out in 1998, it was the official government party and thus controlled parliament. All government employees were expected to vote for Golkar, and Golkar always supported Suharto’s policies. 

The party has held its own surprisingly well in the three elections since Suharto’s ouster. Pivotal to this success has been its effort to reform its image and sideline politicians considered too close to Suharto and the military. Economic development through liberalization is Golkar’s chief policy, and its claim to legitimacy is based on its cadres’ technical expertise and business experience (although it still uses populist programs to boost its popularity in rural areas). It is secular in its outlook and has typically erred on the side of religious tolerance. Its vertical and horizontal organization has meant that of all political parties in the country, Golkar enjoys support that is spread most evenly across all the regions. 

Golkar has yet to nominate a winning candidate for president, but it was the largest party in the House of Representatives in 2004 and the second-largest party in 2009 (after the Democratic Party). It is poised for strong results again in 2014.

As a party with a long history and strong institutional roots, Golkar does not revolve around a single personality. It is also one of very few Indonesian parties to consistently hold conventions to determine a presidential candidate. This means that Golkar’s fortunes are unlikely to rise and fall with those of a single candidate and that it is unlikely to depart from the national political scene anytime soon. 

But factional conflicts within the party have eroded its unity, and it struggles to come together behind a chosen candidate. The three newest parties in parliament—Gerindra, Hanura, and NasDem—were all created by dissatisfied ex-Golkar politicians. 

PDI-P (Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle)

During Yudhoyono’s decade-long tenure as president, PDI-P has consistently represented itself as the populist, secular-nationalist, “pro-poor” voice of the opposition. PDI-P’s support is based primarily in Java, which is heavily Muslim, but the party has been consistently vocal in its support for religious tolerance and pluralism and its opposition to policies that appear to impose Islam as a state ideology. 

PDI-P grew out of the Indonesian Democratic Party, which was the primary opposition party to the ruling Golkar during Suharto’s New Order. It moved from opposition to ruling party when its current chairwoman, Megawati Sukarnoputri, was president (2001–2004), but PDI-P’s inability to drive reforms as the ruling party in parliament disappointed its followers. 

There are notable differences between PDI-P’s policies during its stint in power and those it has pursued as an opposition party. Economic nationalism, for example, has formed a significant plank of the party’s policy platform throughout Yudhoyono’s rule. When the president enacted fuel hikes in 2005 and 2013, PDI-P strongly objected on the grounds that these policies would burden the poor. However, PDI-P pursued a fuel subsidy reduction while it was in power in 2003. Similarly, as an opposition party, PDI-P has been a strong critic of the military, but when it was the ruling party it regularly used military force to crack down on separatist movements.

PDI-P is not quite a personal vehicle for its matriarch, Megawati, but it does draw heavily upon her star power. The memory of her father, Sukarno, who was Indonesia’s charismatic first president, remains very prominent in PDI-P. 

In 2014, the party faced a big decision: nominate Megawati for the fourth time or undergo a changing of the guard and nominate the popular Jakarta governor Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi. On March 14, PDI-P chose to nominate Jokowi, hoping to capitalize on his widespread appeal during the parliamentary as well as the presidential elections. 

With 94 seats in the House of Representatives, PDI-P is currently the third-largest party in parliament. Nonetheless, it claims to be ready to return to a position of leadership in 2014, and polls indicate that the party could land in first or second place in the lower house elections. By choosing to nominate Jokowi, PDI-P has substantially increased its chances of driving Indonesia's future.

Gerindra (Great Indonesia Movement Party)

Gerindra is the “hot” new party in Indonesia’s political landscape. It is a secular party whose chief ideology appears to be fierce nationalism and defense of the unitary state. On economic policy, the party’s chief patron, former lieutenant general Prabowo Subianto, claims to desire a balance between populist “national interests,” foreign investment, and subsidy cuts. 

Gerindra was established in 2008 as Prabowo’s political vehicle after he failed to win the 2004 presidential nomination of his original party, Golkar. Gerindra’s policy platform remains hazy and at times contradictory since its primary purposes are to facilitate Prabowo’s presidential campaign and appeal to as many Indonesians as possible. 

Gerindra has substantial financial resources provided by Prabowo’s brother, Hashim Djojohadikusomo, one of Indonesia’s richest men. This allows Gerindra to operate well-designed public relations campaigns to boost its profile. In 2009, the party won 26 seats in parliament, and it is likely to improve on that result in 2014. 

To further enhance its chances of success, Gerindra began absorbing smaller parties from across the political spectrum as early as 2011. However, Gerindra’s singular devotion to Prabowo will make it difficult to fashion a broad coalition of interests and develop extensive nationwide networks. 

Hanura (People’s Conscience Party)

Just like the Democratic Party and Gerindra, Hanura is a political party created to fulfill an individual’s presidential ambitions. Its patron is former general Wiranto, who—like Prabowo—failed to find success within Golkar, which prompted him to establish Hanura in 2006. 

Also like Gerindra, Hanura has spent the past five years as an opposition party and promotes a highly nationalist ideology lacking in specifics. It sets itself apart by targeting parts of eastern Indonesia—particularly Sulawesi—as a voting base. Wiranto’s Christian and Chinese running mate could also bolster Hanura’s popularity beyond the Muslim strongholds of Java and Sumatra.

Hanura was the smallest party in parliament in 2009, when it won seventeen seats and 3.8 percent of the national vote. This is just above the new parliamentary threshold for the 2014 elections, which requires a party to receive 3.5 percent of the national vote in order to be eligible for parliamentary representation. Most surveys suggest Hanura will increase its share and make the cutoff. The recent addition of media tycoon Hary Tanoesoedibjo as the party’s chief patron will boost Hanura’s resources. So far, however, Wiranto’s presidential campaign has been eclipsed by Prabowo’s.

PKPI (Indonesian Justice and Unity Party)

PKPI, a firmly secular and nationalist party that has vocally supported Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party since 2004, splintered from Golkar in 1999 on the grounds that Golkar was drifting toward accommodating Islamic interests. It is strongly affiliated with the armed forces and has the backing of Suharto’s vice president, former general Try Sutrisno. Its focus on maintaining national unity has even been used to justify its support for passage of a conservative anti-pornography bill

PKPI was initially excluded by the General Elections Commission on the grounds that it had not offered sufficient proof of nationwide support, a decision that was later overruled by the Election Supervisory Body.

NasDem (Nasional Demokrat)

NasDem began as a civic mass organization founded by several Golkar leaders in 2010. In July 2011, the NasDem Party was forged out of this organization by media mogul Surya Paloh. Thanks to its organizational strength and Paloh’s wealth, this brand-new secular-nationalist party had no difficulty qualifying for the 2014 elections, although it may still pursue partnership with PDI-P

Despite projections that NasDem will win seats in parliament, the cohesion of its leadership is still very much in flux. A number of high-profile politicians have left NasDem since its inception, with Paloh’s tight grip over the party possibly being at the root of these disputes.

Islamic Political Parties

PKS (Prosperous Justice Party)

PKS is known for its educated, politically savvy leaders, its well-developed organizational and electoral strategies, and its modern, pragmatic Islamic ideology. When it burst onto the national scene in 2004, going from seven to 45 seats in the House of Representatives, international observers wondered if the party represented the future of political Islam in Indonesia. PKS seemed positioned to transform the landscape of Indonesian politics. 

The party won 57 seats in 2009, but its credibility took a big hit in January 2013 when its chairman and other staffers became implicated in a graft scandal. The credibility of other Islamic parties implicated in the scandal was also damaged as all had made moral leadership a central pillar in their campaigns.

Since then, PKS has tried to repair its reputation but appears to have lost its way. Despite being in the ruling coalition, PKS opposed the Yudhoyono government’s fuel price increase in an apparent play to populism, prompting Democratic Party leaders to urge PKS to leave the ruling coalition

The party has also struggled to appeal to both conservative, rural Muslims and progressive, urban Muslims. PKS has supported the implementation of sharia law, but it recently decided against adopting the ultraconservative Wahhabism ideology. It has showed very poorly in opinion polls, which indicates that PKS may not even meet the national electoral threshold required to join the House of Representatives in 2014.

PAN (National Mandate Party)

PAN is an Islamic political party, and it is by far the most moderate of all the religious parties that will be competing in 2014. It was established by democratic reformist Amien Rais in 1998 and is unofficially affiliated with the Muhammadiyah movement, the more modernist of Indonesia’s two largest and oldest Muslim organizations (the other being Nahdlatul Ulama). 

Of the Muslim parties, PAN also has the most evenly distributed support across the nation: it is the only Muslim party with a representative in the lower house from Papua, and it has also sponsored several Christian candidates. Since the 1970s, Indonesian parties have been categorized as either “Islamic” or “secular-nationalist,” depending on whether the party explicitly identifies itself as Muslim and grounds its policies in Islamic teachings. PAN rejects this standard Islamic-secular dichotomy, claiming to be an “open” party based on Indonesia’s pluralist national philosophy, the Pancasila. 

The party has supported Yudhoyono’s ruling coalition since 2004. Its current chair, Hatta Rajasa, is also Indonesia’s coordinating minister for economic affairs, and his daughter is married to Yudhoyono’s son.

PAN’s electoral fortunes have been fairly stable since 1999. It won 46 seats in the 2009 legislative elections. The 2014 electoral threshold is higher than it has been in previous years, so PAN will likely join forces with smaller parties that have been deemed ineligible to compete for the election, including the Prosperous Peace Party, a moderate Christian party. In the past, PAN has competed with PKS for the votes of urban, middle-class Muslims. PKS appeared to be winning this contest, but its corruption-related travails may give PAN an advantage

PPP (United Development Party)

Like PDI-P, PPP is the direct descendant of a Suharto-era party—in 1973, all of Indonesia’s Islamic parties were forcibly merged under one umbrella called PPP. Now, PPP has become a conservative Islamic party that supports the inclusion of religion in public education. In 1998, the party replaced Pancasila with Islam as its ideological foundation. 

PPP appears to be assuming a more hardline stance with time, especially where minorities are concerned. The chairman of PPP, Minister of Religious Affairs Suryadharma Ali, has proclaimed both Shia Islam and the Ahmadiyya sect, an Islamic movement that began in the late nineteenth century, to be heretical. He has also praised the vigilanteIslamic Defenders’ Front, which has attacked churches, “sinful” businesses, and Ahmadiyya communities.

Suryadharma argues that dialogue with radical groups is more effective than alienating them politically. For the 2014 elections, PPP even nominated a spokesman from the Islamic Defenders’ Front, Munarman, for a House of Representatives seat, although the party rescinded the nomination when it did not meet the requirements of the Election Commission.

PPP’s shift toward hardline Islam has not been rewarded by voters. Its political fortunes have been on the decline since 1999, and it lost twenty parliamentary seats between 2004 and 2009, bringing its total to 38. In a bid to recover lost ground, PPP has moderated its most extreme stances, such as the demand for including the Jakarta Charter (which requires Indonesian Muslims to follow sharia law) in the amended constitution. It has also invited all other Muslim parties to join its campaign in 2014—except for PKS and PAN, which it does not consider truly Islamic. 

PKB (National Awakening Party)

Though it was only established in 1998, PKB has deep roots in Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization. This connection has linked PKB to a voter base of rural, traditionalist Javanese Muslims. Yet the party’s policies have generally skewed closer to moderate Islam. Unlike Nahdlatul Ulama, for example, PKB does not advocate that Indonesia become an Islamic state, and it supported Indonesia’s controversial decision to host the 2013 Miss World contest. 

As a result of these competing influences, PKB leaders have not been able to articulate a consensus on a clear party platform, an issue that is exacerbated by the party’s failure to develop a vertical and horizontal organization independent of the personal factions of its leaders.

The party’s most famous leader was the “eccentric” former president Abdurrahman Wahid, who envisioned the party as secular-nationalist and whose leadership prompted two splits within PKB. These splits eroded confidence in the party, and its seat allocation has dwindled from over 50 in both 1999 and 2004 to 28 in 2009. 

In 2014, PKB is highly unlikely to field a presidential candidate, but its two would-be nominees represent the divergent strains within the party: Mohammad Mahfud MD, a well-respected former chief justice of the Constitutional Court who refused an invitation to join the Democratic Party convention, and Rhoma Irama, a pop star who has made inflammatory racial and religious comments.

PBB (Crescent Star Party)

PBB is the smallest Islamic party competing in the 2014 elections as well as one of the most conservative. The central platform of its campaign is the bottom-up implementation of sharia law

Since its creation in 1998, however, PBB has been bedeviled with splits and turbulence. Its most visible parliamentary candidate in 2014 is graft convict Nazaruddin Sjamsuddin. The party had also nominated another highly visible graft convict, former police general Susno Duaji. Although his conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court, Susno defied attempts by the attorney general’s office to take him into custody. He eventually turned himself in and is now in jail, and PBB promptly replaced him with his daughter on its list of candidates. 

Polls suggest that PBB will not win more than 1 percent of the national vote. No doubt sensing the need for partners, PBB has expressed interest in joining a coalition of Islamic parties and in 2010 floated the possibility of a strategic merger with Hanura.