From campus to Red-and-White Coalition

What does it mean to be an “Islamist” after the 2014 general election, which put Islamic-based political parties, primarily the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), in the opposition camp in the current political constellation?

Several months ago, from a discussion held by several Islamic student activists in Yogyakarta, I came away with the impression that “political Islam” should be transformed, not only on the basis of morality, as their predecessors did in the 1990s, but also to attain the political power that they are obsessed with nowadays.

Some activists noted that the Islamist movement cannot be sustained without enough financial capacity. Ideology cannot be sustained unless the movement can earn enough money to keep it going. Inevitably, it can only operate through signing a “peace agreement” with capitalism.

In Islam, an activist said, there were no sharia objections to brokerage activities. It is halal to get money from political networking with politicians as long as it comes from a halal source. But when I said that it was morally wrong, he said that way was only the means, not the goal of the movement.

This story reflects a strong tendency today of pragmatism among Islamists.

Why have Islamists tended to be more pragmatic since the end of the New Order in 1998? Pragmatism is the result of compromise between the Islamist movement with the current political order, but without narrating Islam as the center of their aspirations.

Before 1998, Islamists seemed to be portrayed as “religious”, “orthodox”, or “pious”. As noted by Burhanuddin Muhtadi in his recent book, Jemaah Tarbiyah (The Islamic Student Movement), the Islamist movement originated from the community of Islamic propagators or dakwah based on Indonesian campuses. When Indonesia experienced an economic crisis in 1997, the community transformed into a student movement (KAMMI), which was able to mobilize thousands of students and activists to challenge the regime and contribute to reformasi.

The movement then transformed into the Justice Party (PK) and later the PKS, which later took part in the general elections of 1999, 2004 and 2009. The transformation of Jemaah Dakwah into a political party cannot be separated from the political economic context of reformasi. The transformation should be seen as an adaptation to the new political structure built after reformasi.

After 2004, almost all parties left their ideological basis, declaring they were “inclusive”.

Firmanzah’s Political Marketing (2009) best describes the logic of market in politics. Political parties are described as companies selling their products to voters. Thus, political parties should be able to portray good political images in their campaigns and implement them in public policy.

All parties have to earn money to fund political campaigns and improve their images in society. Political parties nowadays have to capitalize on their networks to sustain and boost their political power. No wonder some party elites, including Islamists, have been implicated in corruption cases.

In this context, we can understand how and why Islamism as political discourse is changing: Islamist elites have to adapt to the current economic and political structure.

When Islamists came into power in 2004 and 2009, they formed a coalition with the Democrat Party. The PKS got three ministerial seats and became influential in the legislature. Nevertheless, the only influence of the so-called Islamists in the legislation products and policies were largely limited to issues of public morality. Their influence is not that visible in the areas of liberalization; education, economy, or health.

Today, there are hardly any Islamist elites in the Cabinet, reflecting the position of the PKS in the Red-and-White Coalition of Gerindra, Golkar and other parties opposing the coalition of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

Within this new political atmosphere, it will be difficult for Islamist elites to either influence Jokowi’s policy or articulate their discourse within the coalition. By building a coalition with the nationalist Gerindra, we will see how the Islamists adapt and how this will transform political Islam today and in the future.

Ahmad Rizky Mardhatillah Umar, The writer works at the School of Social and Political Sciences, Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta.

Source : The Jakarta Post

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