Viewpoints of Prominent PKS Parliamentarians on the Future Development of PKS in Indonesia

May 19, 2012 by Dr. Farish A. Noor

The State of the Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (PKS) in Indonesia Today:

Viewpoints of Prominent PKS Parliamentarians on the Future Development of PKS in Indonesia

The Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (PKS) today is at the forefront of Islamist politics in Indonesia and is certainly a major political party with national aspirations: With more than two and a half million members and a support base that is five times bigger than that, and with a national headquarters in Jakarta, provincial headquarters in all the island provinces and around 66 thousand village-level bases across the vast country, it has established itself on almost all levels of Indonesian society and politics.[1]

The PKS first appeared during the tumultuous period of Suharto’s downfall that culminated in major student demonstrations in Jakarta and the other major cities, and the President withdrawing from power in May 1998. It contested the elections that were held immediately after the fall of Suharto, but failed to reach the 2.5 popular vote threshold that was set in order for it to qualify for representation in Parliament. In the following elections its performance has improved significantly. In April 2002 the party was reconstituted and it came under the leadership of Hidayat Nur Wahid. At the elections of 2004 PKS won 7.3 percent of the popular vote, earning it 45 (out of 550) seats in Parliament, making PKS the 7th biggest party in the country in terms of Parliamentary representation. Boosting the party’s image further was the election of Hidayat Nur Wahid as the Speaker of the House of Representatives as well. In 2009 Hidayat Nur Wahid was replaced by Luthfi Hasan Ishaaq, who has been the President of the party ever since. At the last election PKS went one step further, and even fronted Christians as its candidates in some of the Christian-majority provinces and areas in Indonesia, such as West Papua.

Many questions, however, remain as to what the PKS really believes in and what its long-term interests and objectives might be. Since it appeared on the scene of Indonesian national politics, its detractors have accused it of being a ‘Trojan horse’ for an eventual Islamist take-over of Indonesia. Secular liberal critics of PKS accuse it of pandering to the populist Muslim vote and of furthering exclusively Islamist causes and concerns such as the campaign against America’s role in the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. They also argue that PKS is a conservative right-wing party that takes a very conservative stand on issues such as gender equality, citing PKS’s support of the anti-pornography bill in Parliament that was vehemently opposed by liberals as well as non-Muslim minorities such as the Hindus of Bali who regarded the bill as another injection of Islamist politics into Indonesian society.

Cynics accuse PKS of selling out and using religion to further their political ambitions, and cite numerous instances where the PKS – or rather its leaders – have been accused of corruption and abuse of power. Notable instances of such contradictions in recent times include the embarrassing case of a PKS parliamentarian caught on video looking at pornography sites on his laptop during a sitting in Parliament, when PKS was one of the parties supporting the anti-pornography bill in the country. Some other PKS leaders have also been cited in investigations of a more serious nature, such as the scandal over the import of beef from India (which was stopped by the government for fear of foot-and-mouth disease) when PKS representatives were put in charge of the Ministry of Agriculture. These instances have provided PKS’s critics with ample opportunity to accuse the party of hypocrisy and double-standards.