Major Indonesian party taking hardline tack

    AS ITS popularity dips in recent months, Indonesia’s largest Islamic party, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), has adopted a more strident tone in a bid to shore up its base.

    And observers and officials say there are worrying indications that the party whose founders were inspired by Egypt’s Islamist organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood, is trying to win over supporters of hardline Islamic groups.

    The trigger point, they say, is the arrest of then-party president Luthfi Hassan Ishaaq last January for corruption, and his conviction in December for graft and money laundering.

    Party diehards believe Luthfi was set up as part of a bid to discredit their party, which has been bleeding members and supporters who did not strongly subscribe to its end-goal of an Islamic state.

    “There’s been a change in the party,” analyst Al Chaidar of Malikussaleh University in Aceh told The Straits Times.

    And many remaining members, he said, fear the party may well face the fate of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood – which was outlawed last year after a military coup overthrew the nation’s president, who is from the Muslim Brotherhood.

    Political analyst Achmad Sukarsono of Binus University says PKS leaders are moving closer to the party’s puritan Muslim voting base, and other Muslim groups, as a way to entrench support.

    Senior intelligence officials say several newly recruited party cadres are known to have links with militant groups such as Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT), which was founded by firebrand cleric Abu Bakar Bashir.

    But PKS MP Hidayat Nur Wahid, leader of the party’s parliamentary group, told The Straits Times firmly that no PKS MP or cadre was a member of JAT, which is strongly opposed to Muslims being led by non-Muslims.

    “Our ideological foundation differs,” he said. “We have non-Muslim MP candidates from regions where Muslims are not predominant like Bali, East Nusa Tenggara, Papua.”