Was castrated Prabowo

Islam as an election campaign topic in Indonesia

Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, is electing a new president. In parallel to the decision on the future head of state, the parliament as well as the provincial and local councils will be newly elected. The country, which has been democratic since it opened in 1998, was for many years a role model for a state in which the separation of state and religion functions well. It's different today. "The role of religion cannot be overestimated. It is a means of making politics. And it is instrumentalized from all sides," says Susanne Schröter, director of the Frankfurt Research Center Global Islam, in an interview with DW.

Prabowo, challenger to incumbent President Jokowi, attacks his opponent as not being Islamic enough. For example, Jokowi has been accused of incorrectly pronouncing the standard Arabic of the Koran. Jokowi's campaign team, in turn, is trying to improve the religious reputation of his candidate by claiming that he attended a Muslim denominational school, which is not true.

Susanne Schröter: "Religion is the means to make politics"

The Ahok case

The case of the former governor of the Indonesian capital Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as "Ahok", made clear the special importance of Islam for Indonesian politics. Ahok, a Chinese-born Christian Indonesian, was Jokowi's deputy as governor of Jakarta until 2014. After he was elected president, Ahok moved up. In 2016 he stood for gubernatorial elections. He was wrongly accused by political opponents of having made derogatory comments about the Koran. The rumor spread rapidly on social media. Radical organizations like the Islamist Hizbut-Tahrir brought hundreds of thousands of protesters against Ahok to the streets in November and December 2016.

Finally, in May 2017, Ahok was convicted of blasphemy. He was imprisoned for a total of 21 months. According to Berthold Damshäuser, an Indonesian from Bonn, the conviction must be seen as a judicial scandal.

The Ahok case is an example of a "growing intolerance" in the country, which Damshäuser has been observing for a long time. According to Damshäuser, the majority of young people in particular are now in favor of the introduction of Sharia law and, in some cases, even violence against "enemies of Islam". Between 30 and 40 percent of voters in 2017 were between 17 and 34 years old, according to various studies.

Ex-Governor Ahok in the dock for blasphemy in 2017

The reform era created space for radical currents

In an interview with DW, Schröter, who knows Islam, emphasizes that growing intolerance and the ever stricter interpretation of Muslim beliefs are mainly fed by two sources: firstly, from a historical one, Indonesian from inside, and secondly from a younger one from abroad.

Islamist groups played a major role in Indonesia in the war of independence after the Second World War. However, after gaining independence, they were unable to assert themselves politically. Indonesia did not become a god state. Instead, the then President Sukarno proclaimed the state ideology Pancasila, which is also in the preamble of the constitution. The Pancasila was supposed to promote the national unity of the multi-ethnic state. It comprises five principles, which include the equal belief in one of the five great world religions, democracy and social justice.

Sukarno was followed by Suharto, whose authoritarian government left little room for radical and ultra-conservative Muslims. In 1998 the democratic reform era "Reformasi" began. "Democratization has suddenly washed Islamist actors into the public eye and given them space to organize," says Schröter.

Indonesia's founding president Sukarno

Influence of Wahhabism on the education system

More recently, the massive influence from the Gulf States, especially Saudi Arabia, but also from Egypt has been added. Conservative Islam with a Wahhabi character has mainly gained a foothold in the educational system. Schröter refers to a large number of scholarship holders who have studied in Saudi Arabia, for example, and then return to Indonesia with ultra-conservative convictions, where they would have a considerable influence on society as multipliers.

In this context, Damshäuser names the pesantren (Islamic schools), of which there are numerous in the country. Here too, with the support of foreign money, conservative Islam is often taught. It is therefore no coincidence that the country's youth in particular are becoming more and more radical.

Failure of the Democratic Elites?

Schröter sees a failure of the political elite, who have not succeeded in filling the democratic constitution of the country and the liberal basic orientation of the Pancasila with life. She judged Jokowi's first term in office: "He did not meet the high expectations that were placed on him." Neither in terms of human rights nor in combating progressive Islamization had he achieved anything.

Sections of civil society are disappointed by Jokowi. In the 2014 election campaign, he promised to advocate pluralism. Little of this has been felt in the past five years

Damshäuser criticizes: "The political elite in Indonesia is too often ready to betray their ideals in favor of crude populism." At the same time, he restricts: "But maybe it is a clever move by Jokowi to approach political Islam." Indonesian politicians would have to answer the following question for themselves: "What is more dangerous: increasing Islamization or an open division in the country?" Damshäuser can understand that Jokowi, as president of a multiethnic state with a long history of domestic violence, makes concessions here in order not to risk the stability of the country. "Possibly in the hope of integrating and taming the Islamic forces." Of course, it is not certain whether this will succeed in the long term.

Overall, Damshäuser is a little more optimistic than Schröter. "A relapse into the authoritarian conditions before the 'Reformasi' or even the establishment of an Islamic state is highly unlikely."

Correction: An earlier version of the article stated, "Around 80 percent of voters in 2017 were between 17 and 34 years old, according to a study by Saiful Mujani Research Consulting." The information is incorrect and has been corrected on the basis of the study mentioned and another study by the Australian Lowy Institute. Please excuse this mistake.