Despite a recent poll showcased by fundamentalist groups saying 72% of Indonesians think Sharia should be the law of the land, judging by past elections and current voter sentiment, Sharia won't be instituted countrywide anytime soon.
An entity calling itself the SEM Institute, evidently connected with the group Islam in Indonesia, says it obtained the result after polling 1,498 people in 38 cities between late December 2013 and late January this year. Islam in Indonesia and Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) posted the survey's results on their websites.
Yet five Islamic parties competing in next week's parliamentary elections are forecast to win a combined 15% of the vote – down from 26% in 2009, and 38% in 2004– according to the Indonesian Survey Institute (ISI).
"In choosing which party they will vote for, Muslim voters no longer think of their religion, but rather the party's track record and policies," ISI director Dodi Ambardi told AFP.
Softening their platforms
Indonesia may be the country with the largest Muslim population, but secular parties have dominated national politics since independence. In contrast, parties that traditionally have called for transforming Indonesia into an Islamic state have struggled to win over a majority of voters.
Muslim parties made a strong showing in the 1955 elections, but were suppressed under Soeharto's New Order Regime (1967-1998). They burst back onto the scene after Soeharto stepped aside.
Although they fared well in 2004 elections, the only such party to come to power was in 1999 when moderate Abdurrahman Wahid– popularly known as Gus Dur– became Indonesia's first democratically elected president.
He led the National Awakening Party (PKB), which headed a strategic alliance of Islam-based parties dubbed the Central Axis.
Now, if the country's five Islamic parties hope to win in coming elections, they will need to revive the Central Axis in some form and rally around a candidate who can lead them to power, commentators say.
"The Islamic parties' Central Axis can be done if they have one central figure who will be able to unite all of them," Bahtiar Effendy, a professor at Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University in Jakarta, told Khabar.
"Unfortunately, we have not seen this happening until now."
At the same time, Islamic parties are softening their platforms and relegating the issue of instituting Sharia law to the back burner. The PKB, United Development Party (PPP), National Mandate Party (PAN), Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and Crescent Star Party (PBB) appear to be focusing more on promoting pluralism and democracy as tactics for attracting votes.
Marbawi A. Katon, an analyst with the firm Saiful Mujani Research & Consulting, likewise predicted Islam-based parties won't fare well in the April 9th legislative elections and the July 9th presidential election.
"I think our voters are now becoming more rational and selective. They will choose [a candidate] based on the programme offered by the political parties, and not only relying on ideology," he told Khabar Southeast Asia.