April 9, 2014 / 1:18 PM / 6 years ago

Indonesia's Islamic parties surprise with strong showing in election

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia’s Islamic political parties are poised to grab a larger-than-expected share of the vote in Wednesday’s general election, indicating a loyal following in the world’s most populous Muslim nation despite a spate of corruption scandals.

The country’s five Islamic-based national parties looked to have grabbed a combined 32 percent share of the national vote, performing slightly better than in the last parliamentary election in 2009, according to a quick count by think-tank CSIS.

In the run-up to the elections, pollsters were forecasting the downfall of Indonesia’s Islamic parties.

“This confirms that 30 percent support is a natural level for (Islamic parties) as there are still some parts of the country where they remain popular,” said Douglas Ramage, political analyst at Bower Group Asia consultancy.

Despite the strong showing on Wednesday, the parties are divided and are not expected to form a coalition that would allow them to field a candidate in a July presidential election.

But individually, the Islamic parties, like the PKB and the National Mandate Party (PAN), could play influential roles as the larger political groups look to form coalitions.

“(Islamic parties) have no track record of cooperating with each other,” said Todung Mulya Lubis, chairman of the executive board of Transparency International in Indonesia.

“But in terms of negotiating with other parties, to have more bargaining power, they will have to rethink that.”

PKB emerged as the most popular Islamic party taking more than 9 percent of the vote, nearly doubling its share from 2009. PKB’s presidential candidate, Rhoma Irama, is the self-styled “king of dangdut,” a hugely popular form of music with Arabic and Indian influences.

Indonesia’s largest Muslim party, PKS, saw only a slight decline in its share of the vote from 2009 with 7 percent, CSIS said. That was despite a major corruption scandal that has badly hit the party’s leadership.

Religious parties made a comeback in Indonesia’s era of democratic reform after the fall in 1998 of authoritarian leader, Suharto. But support has steadily dropped over the last decade.

The rise in votes also comes amid concern that Indonesia, nearly 90 percent of whose population adheres to Islam, is turning increasingly intolerant with the government accused of pandering to groups which want Islam to play a more dominant role in a country whose state ideology recognizes several religions.

Editing by Jonathan Thatcher and Robert Birsel

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