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

May 19, 2012 by Dr. Farish A. Noor

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Notwithstanding the criticisms from PKS’s secular-liberal detractors; and the criticisms they have also received from other more hardline Islamist groups who in turn accuse PKS of ‘selling out’ by actively participating in democratic politics; the PKS maintains that it is a mainstream political party that is committed to the rules of the democratic game. But does this mean we should see the PKS as primarily a political (rather than religious) party? And does this mean that the PKS’s Islamist stance is to be tempered by political and realpolitik considerations in the long run?

The interviews below were done in Jakarta and feature the opinions of two of the high-ranking leaders of PKS today: Fahri Hamzah, PKS member of Parliament and the Commission III of the Peoples’ Assembly; and Zulkieflimansyah, also member of Parliament and who is widely speculated to be appointed to the Commission III of the Parliament next year. Both PKS leaders are widely known in the party and in the country at large. At the time that the interviews were conducted, Fahri Hamzah was widely in the mainstream news for his outspoken comments about the Anti Corruption Agency in Indonesia and his critique of the extensive power of the Agency and its authority to question Parliamentarians. Zulkieflimansyah is also noted as one of the reformers of the party, and is also of a technocratic background.

The salient points that were raised in the two interviews, and which we would like to draw the reader’s attention to, include:

  • PKS’s commitment to the democratic process, on the grounds that it wishes to present itself as a mainstream national party with national political ambitions. PKS seems clearly committed to the objective of state capture, as noted by the interviewees themselves; but on the other hand maintains that state capture can and should only be attempted via the legal-constitutional process. This entails a rejection of any sort of violent radical politics that would undermine the very democratic process that the PKS requires in order to catapault it to a position of governance and national leadership.
  • Related to this commitment to democratic constitutional politics is the rejection of all/any forms of violence and militancy. Though the interviewees conceded that there remain conservative voices in the ranks of the party, they maintain that any form of religiously-inspired violence would be counter-productive to improving the PKS’s chances at the polls, and as such regards violence as a vote-loser. It is interesting to note that the PKS leaders we spoke to maintain that its internal cadre-training system is important as a ‘preventive radicalisation’ system to ensure that the rank and file of the party remain committed to the PKS’s aim of winning power constitutionally.
  • With regards to the radical and violent Islamist groups in Indonesia today, the interviewees noted that there exists a particular relationship between the PKS and the radical groups that have made the headlines like the Fron Pembela Islam, Majlis Mujahidin Indonesia, Forum Betawi Rembuk, Jama’at’ul Ansor, etc. The PKS leaders we spoke to were frank in their admission that the presence of such extremist organisations in Indonesia today actually serves the interests of the PKS indirectly, that is by lending the impression that the PKS – unlike the FPI, MMI, JA, FBR etc – is a more moderate, legitimate and constitutional choice for Indonesian voters.
  • Finally, it ought to be noted that pragmatism seems to prevail in the calculations of the PKS leaders we spoke to, who confessed that for PKS to become a national party it has to work with other political parties in the country (which means working in a coalition with non-Islamist parties) and to accept the reality that Indonesia’s plural society also means that the PKS will have to court the support of secular Muslims and non-Muslims, who will be more concerned with horizontal, non-divisive issues (like anti-corruption, transparency and freedom of the press) and less concerned with Islam-specific concerns like Shariah law and Hudud punishments.

In all, this small sampling of political opinion among the two PKS leaders would suggest that there are indeed pragmatic, technocratically-inclined leaders among the PKS’s top leadership who recognise the prevailing socio-political realities of Indonesia today, and who wish to keep the party on the course of constitutional democratic politics.