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Indonesian Islamic parties consider a coalition

  |   Nov. 26, 2013 at 6:03 AM
JAKARTA, Nov. 26 (UPI) -- One of Indonesia's main Islamic political groups said it will seek a broad coalition of Islamic parties to put forward a presidential candidate for next year's election.

Arwani Thomafi, deputy secretary-general of the United Development Party -- called Partai Persatuan Pembangunan in Indonesian -- said the PPP will talk to three Islamic parties that hold seats in the House of Representatives.

Arwani said the PPP had "established good communications" with the National Mandate Party, the National Awakening Party and the Prosperous Justice Party as a basis for talks.

He also said the PPP will talk to a fourth group, the Crescent Star Party, whose representatives sat in the House from 2004-2009 but failed to win any seats in the current legislature, The Jakarta Globe reported.

"An axis made up of Islamic political parties will have strategic power and offer an alternative, especially when facing a coalition made up of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, the Golkar Party or the Democratic Party," Arwani said.

Indonesians will make forays to the polls next year for most major levels of government.

National elections for the House of Representatives, as well as for 3 provincial assemblies and nearly 500 district assemblies, take place April 9.

Campaigning by presidential hopefuls begins in May with the first round of voting held July 9. If needed, a runoff will happen in September some time and the winner is sworn into office Oct. 20.

Political parties are beginning to ramp up their electioneering because President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, elected in 2004 to the first or his two five-year terms, is constitutionally ineligible to run for a third term.

Susilo, 64, a former army general and head of the Democratic Party, won with an outright majority of the votes in the first round of presidential balloting in 2009.

A presidential candidate must have the backing of a party, or parties, that in total has at least 20 percent of the seats in in the House or 25 percent of the national vote.

The president of Indonesia is both head of state and head of government. He or she also appoints a Cabinet whose members needn't be in the 550-seat House of Representatives, also called the People's Representative Council.

If agreed, the Islamic coalition would rekindle hopes of the parties for a successful bid for president after their previous Islamic coalition, called the Central Axis, fell apart, the Globe reported.

Central Axis was formed 1999 in support of the presidential bid by Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid, leader of Indonesia's largest Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama and the founder of the National Awakening Party -- PKB.

Gus Dur, a partially blind cleric, journalist and scholar, was elected president of Indonesia with the backing of the major Islamic parties in late 1999.

But many Indonesians considered him not Islamic enough. He lifted the ban on all forms of Chinese culture and the ban on Marxism and Leninism, London's Guardian newspaper reported at the time of his death of 2009.

Gus also defended Salman Rushdie for his controversial 1988 novel The Satanic Verses.

The Guardian report said Gus believed that under Islam, democracy isn't haram -- forbidden -- but a compulsory element of the religion and upholding democracy is one of the principles of Islam.

But his often chaotic administration ended under corruption allegations and finally his impeachment in July 2001. He died of ill health at age 69 in December 2009.

Getting the four parties to agree to back a single Islamic candidate may be difficult. The PKB and the Prosperous Justice Party -- PKS have shown indifference toward the idea, the Globe reported.

"This isn't a new thing [but] an old discourse," PKB Deputy Chairman Marwan Jafar told Indonesian news portal liputan6.com.

"We'll see after the legislative elections because we decide on presidential and vice president candidates only after legislative elections," Marwan said.

The Globe also reported that a recent survey suggested Indonesians might welcome an Islamic party coalition.

The National Survey Institute said its latest poll found that nearly 46 percent of respondents favored, in principle, a coalition of Islamic parties, while 24 percent didn't.

The remainder were undecided or had no opinion. The survey was conducted Oct. 20-30, was based on responses from 1,240 eligible voters across Indonesia's 34 provinces.

"Uniting the Islamic parties, though, isn't easy," LSN researcher Dipa Pradipta said. "Group egos, which form the foundation of the Islamic parties, likely will serve as the main obstacle."

The Liberal Golkar party, the second-largest party after the Democratic Party, has been a key member of Susilo's ruling coalition camp but hopes to run its own candidate in the 2014 presidential election.

However, Golkar and has chosen its unpopular chairman, Aburizal Bakrie, for the race, the Post reported.

Aburizal, 67, is an electrical engineer by training and entered the family businesses at an early age.

The Bakrie Group has interests in agriculture, real estate, trade, shipping, banking, insurance, media, manufacturing, construction and mining.

Aburizal's image as a high-level businessman could estrange him from many ordinary voters, the Post said.

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