04/01/2009, 00.00
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Christians fear gains by Islamic parties in elections

by Mathias Hariyadi
There is an expansion of Islamic-inspired parties promoting the institution of Sharia. The young are less and less drawn by the nationalist ideology based on the secular pillars of Pancasila. The Christians are less than 10% of the population, and fear further marginalization.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - The Christians of Indonesia are worried about the national and regional elections on April 9. Among the 38 parties going to the polls, an increasing percentage of voters are turning to the confessional groups promoting Muslim ideology. Especially noteworthy among these are the Partai Bulan Bintang (PBB) and the Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (PKS), whose stated political goals include the institution of Shyariat Islam, an Indonesian expression for Sharia.

The Christian communities of the archipelago are a little less than 10% of the population. There are about 12.5 million Protestants, and 7.5 million Catholics: a minority compared to the more than 182 million Muslims.

"Their worrying feelings [of the Christians] have their rationale," says J. Kristiadi, a Catholic and a politic analyst from the Jakarta-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies. Cases of discrimination on the part of Muslims are on the rise, and there are concerns over the recent increase in public ordinances based on Shyariat Islam.

To the political invasiveness of a confessional nature, Kristiadi also adds the silence of the country's ruling class: on the occasion of the ministerial decree that blocked the construction of any place of worship in Indonesia, no politician objected that this was a limitation of religious freedom.

The growing success of parties of Islamic inspiration is also documented by the latest provincial elections in West Java. Groups like the PKS, thanks in part to an electoral campaign centered on the fight against corruption, obtained unexpected results that many analysts are interpreting as a first test in view of the national elections on April 9, and the presidential election next July.

For Kristiadi, the reason for the success of these parties of clear Islamic inspiration are connected to the progressive abandonment of the Pancasila, the five pillars of secular nationalism on which Indonesia built its history after independence in 1945. With the end of Suharto's dictatorial regime in 1998, a revival was seen of the ideology inspired by Shyariat Islam in the period from 1999-2002, so much so that the parties were able to modify the constitution, which in the past banned the promotion of Sharia in their political platform.

"A survey has revealed that at least 80 percent of university students are hoping to choose in upholding the sharia over Pancasila," says Kristiadi. These are the young people enrolled in the universities in the large cities of Jakarta, Malang, Yogyakarta, and Bandung. Only 4.5% of them hope for the maintaining of the nationalist ideology.

In the process of marginalization targeted at them, Indonesian Christians are paying, among other things, for the lack of authoritative voices within the country's political panorama, and some of the faithful are lamenting the inability to create a single party of Christian inspiration.

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