PKS’ transnational, pragmatic politics

PKS untuk Semua - A colleague at one of Indonesia’s top universities, who was clad in a jilbab and tight blue jeans, giggled and waved dismissively when I asked her opinion about the Prosperous Justice Party’s (PKS) plan to embrace pluralism. People are just not buying what PKS is selling.
But Indonesia’s largest Islamic party is reforming itself and aiming for a bronze medal in the upcoming election (The Jakarta Post, June 21).

In eastern Indonesia, the party recruits heavily from the non-Muslim population for candidates in local legislative council elections. It shows that that political pragmatism is the main reason behind the party’s change.
Optimists see progress, but government minister Tifatul Sembiring recently compared the country’s current sex tape scandal to the crucifixion of Jesus and refuses to greet others on their religious holidays. For many Indonesians, the actions of Tifatul (a former PKS president) are a “sneak preview” of what the future holds for the party: Blatant ignorance, disrespect for the minority and a continuing failure to embrace pluralism.
The list of offenses towards pluralism goes on, but there is a transnational dimension to the party’s reform efforts that is even more interesting.
The PKS is trying to capitalize on transnational relationships to bolster its image as a party of reform and pluralism. Four factors will increase the party’s transnational engagements in the near future.
First, there is a transnational space for political maneuvering that most Indonesian political parties have neglected.
The PKS’ attempt to recruit new members and to appeal to Indonesian voters abroad started before its 2008 congress in Bali, which set the ambitious goal of winning 20 percent of the vote in the 2009 legislative elections.
English newsletters that are published by the party’s Information and Service Center in North America are a good example of efforts to cater to potential pluralist voters in the US and Canada.
In Germany, where other Indonesian political parties are absent, the PKS has its own headquarters and holds regular events to generate and consolidate its support abroad (though this is never explicitly stated). The party is looking for support in Indonesia and overseas.
Second, the party has a practical need for transnational support to further its domestic political strategy. The party does not hide its heightened interest in transnational business and investment, especially from the Middle East and Muslim-majority countries. It also advocates for a dinar-based special trade bloc.
Third, the party is reducing its anti-Western rhetoric and engaging with key international stakeholders outside the Middle East to give tangible proof of its pluralist claims.
 The PKS’ most recent national congress was held at the (quintessentially-western) Ritz-Carlton Hotel and featured ambassadors from the US, Australia, Germany, and China. It was a clear, international signal that the party is ready to support its claims with action.
Fourth, successfully convincing other transnational actors of the PKS’ commitment to reform and pluralism is likely to strengthen their national standing and aid their candidates in the 2014 election.
Currently, there are many transnational actors — activists, scholars, charity foundations, think-tanks and civil society organizations — who are devoting a great deal of effort, resources and commitment to force religious fundamentalist groups out of power.
Tifatul Sembiring is not an embodiment of the political party — and vice versa. Although many tend to dismiss the party altogether, the PKS is quickly learning how to harness underlying political sentiments in Indonesia.
While many previously called PKS sympathizers “semi-educated goat beards”, the party is a growing political force to be reckoned with. A sound analysis of the Indonesian political landscape will not be complete without including the PKS.
The party’s recent gambit to create a broader base of support is not guaranteed to succeed.  However, the PKS’ transnational pragmatism can be expected to pay dividends for the party in the long run.

The writer is a researcher in the Department of Politics and International Relations at CSIS, Jakarta. He is a PhD. candidate at Northern Illinois University, USA. (Source)
Post A Comment
  • Blogger Comment using Blogger
  • Facebook Comment using Facebook
  • Disqus Comment using Disqus

No comments :

three columns