Indonesia's largest Muslim groups declare electoral neutrality

Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah will not back any candidates in 2014 polls.

By Aditya Surya for Khabar Southeast Asia in Jakarta

February 11, 2014
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To garner votes for Indonesia's upcoming elections, politicians and parties have approached the country's two most influential Muslim organisations for endorsements.

  • Members of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) perform the traditional martial art pencak silat during a July 17th, 2011 parade in Jakarta marking NU's 85th anniversary. [Adek Berry/AFP]

    Members of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) perform the traditional martial art pencak silat during a July 17th, 2011 parade in Jakarta marking NU's 85th anniversary. [Adek Berry/AFP]

But both Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah say they will stay neutral in campaigns for national and regional legislative elections– set for April 9th– as well as for the July 9th presidential polls.

"We are politically neutral and we encourage our members to be leaders and cadres in this upcoming election," Muhammadiyah Chairman Din Syamsuddin told Khabar Southeast Asia.

At 101 years old, Muhammadiyah is Indonesia's oldest Islamic organisation. It and NU – which came into being in 1926 – each count tens of millions of followers.

"NU will not support any political parties or candidates in the elections of 2014. We leave it as a personal choice of each citizen," NU board member Malik Madani told Khabar Southeast Asia.

"We do not want to get involved in political-support decisions. Although NU members are spread among many political parties, we want to remain neutral," Malik added.

On January 8th, Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) party chief and presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto visited both NU and Muhammadiyah leaders to talk to them about his platform.

"We want to assure [them] that we have communality with its followers, including those who are Muhammadiyah members," Prabowo told Khabar.

"We consider NU and Muhammadiyah to be important organisations and their leaders are important figures," he said.

Malik acknowledged some candidates had met with NU officials.

"Prabowo was not the only one. Jakarta's Governor Jokowi was also here," Malik said, using the popular nickname for Joko Widodo. "He was conducting a meeting with NU leaders on the implementation of the National Conference in Jakarta."

Nationwide sharia 'unlikely': commentator

The decision by both organisations to be neutral in the elections was a wise move, West Jakarta Muslim leader Muhammad Ansori Hakim said.

"It is good that they decided to be neutral, to avoid conflict," he told Khabar.

Asked about how some Islamic-based parties were campaigning for nationwide implementation of sharia law as part of their platforms, Ansori said this call was unlikely to become a reality.

"At least not in the near future," Ansori said, basing his assessment on the Indonesian constitution, the five principles of Pancasila, and the country's motto of "Unity in Diversity."

There always is a religious dimension to Indonesian electoral campaigns, but religion does not dominate successful platforms, he noted. All parties should consider doing more to improve tolerance across the country, Ansori added.

Reader Comments
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    • kecewa
      May 12, 2014 @ 01:05:07AM
    • I am very disappointed with Islamic organizations. They say the have millions of members but they do not have the courage to voice the interests of Islam. If you act for the benefit of the faithful then show that Islam is firm, courageous and not afraid. I long for a courageous and firm leadership for the good of the faithful. Don't use neutrality as an excuse which in reality is prolonged confusion and running from responsibility. If the biggest organization is afraid then where are we taking the faithful? If you want to do good by the faithful then show that leaders are important. I am truly disappointed with leaders of Islamic organizations and the feeble Islamic politics.

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