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Islamic party reaches out to Indonesian fringe groups

Publication Date : 04-02-2013


The Islamic United Development Party (PPP) has continued to make overtures to a number of fringe groups in the country in an effort to shore up support from traditional Muslims.

Yesterday, party chairman Suryadharma Ali, who is also the religious affairs minister, announced that his party was open to members of the Indonesian Islamic Propa-gation Institute and Al-Zaytun boarding school, two institutions that have been seen by many as part of a radical movement; the outlawed Indonesia Islamic State.

“I know this is controversial,” Suryadharma said in his speech during the commemoration of the party’s 40th anniversary in Bandung, West Java.

Suryadharma went on to say that the PPP was ready to embrace members of other Muslim organisations viewed by the public as “firebrand” organisations.

“I don’t have to say these groups are extremist. But then, what should we do [about these groups]? Should we just let them be or embrace them?” he said.

Suryadharma said that the PPP was ready to reach out to the groups and bring them to the true version of Islam, as promoted by the party.

“We have to embrace them first to build communication,” he said, adding that Islam was not a religion of terror but of peace.

Last week, Suryadharma made a similar gesture to the vigilante group the Islam Defenders Front (FPI).

The PPP even went so far as to nominate Munarman, the FPI’s outspoken figurehead, as a legislative candidate.

Suryadharma Ali believes that Munarman is well-qualified for the job.

“He comes highly recommended. He is knowledgeable and a lawyer — a perfect fit to be active in politics,” he said.

The PPP is also expected to enlist a family member of Panji Gumilang, the suspected leader of the NII, as a legislative candidate.

Snuggling up to the FPI and the NII could be seen as part of the PPP’s strategy to remain an exclusively Islamic party and to go against the trend among Muslim-based parties to become more secular.

PPP executives declared that the party would only nominate Muslims to run in 2014.

Faced with the prediction that Muslim-based parties would lose a significant number of votes to secular parties, some Islamic parties have begun to woo secular voters.

The National Mandate Party is planning to be less visually Islamic and more inclusive during campaigns, while the National Awakening Party plans to increase the number of non-Muslim members to expand the party’s inclusivity.

This is far from the first time Suryadharma has made controversial statements.

In September last year, responding to a clash between the majority Sunni population in Sampang, Madura Island and the Shia minority, Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma said that the conversion of the latter would be the best way to prevent violent outbreaks between the two groups.

Meanwhile, the West Java provincial branch of PPP said in a statement on Saturday it was ready to nominate Suryadharma as its presidential candidate.

The chairman of PPP’s West Java, Rachmat Yasin, said the party was ready to gather more votes that would allow Suryadharma to be nominated as president.

“If the party’s provincial branch could get at least 15 per cent of the vote [in the legislative election]there is no reason for the party not to nominate our chairman as a candidate for the position of president or vice president. West Java is a guarantee,” Rachmat said.


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