Parliamentary and presidential elections in Indonesia this year may hinge on how the public reacts to a directive from the country’s top Islamic council –all Muslims must vote or risk going to hell.
The fatwa from the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) is not legally binding. But it does carry weight in the world’s most populous Muslim country, where Islamic conservatism has been growing since the fall of the country’s former autocratic president, Suharto, moe than a decade ago. Suharto kept a lid on politicised Islam with the same ruthless approach he took to eradicating leftist influences after coming to power following a 1965 coup blamed on communists. (Photo: Cigarette factory where orders dropped after MUI issued fatwa against smoking in public, 2 Feb 2009/Sigit Pamungkas)
The MUI has evolved from being a pliant arm of Suharto’s regime to becoming an independent body that aims to influence public policy. The edict does not state which parties or candidates voters should choose. But it could encourage Muslims to choose Islamist candidates at the polls, pushing the country away from secularism toward a more socially rigid government.
Indonesia’s plethora of political parties mean relatively small shifts among voters could potentially determine which groups form alliances in the April 9 general election and which field candidates in the presidential election in July.