20 October 2023

The surprise visit of Anies Baswedan and Muhaimin Iskandar to FPI leader Rizieq Shihab on 27 September 2023.

[Jakarta, 20 October 2023] Indonesian Islamists are unlikely to have any significant impact on the 2024 general elections or engage in violent protests if their candidates of choice are defeated. The Jokowi government has successfully marginalised the leading Islamist groups, and no candidate for president is likely to rely on their support for partisan advantage, even with the Gaza war as a backdrop.

These are the major findings of the “Indonesian Islamists in the Lead-Up to the 2024 Elections”, the latest report from the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC). The report examines the pre-election strategies of four groups: the Islamic Brotherhood Front (Front Persaudaraan Islam, FPI), formerly the Islamic Defenders Front; two Salafi-modernist organisations, Wahdah Islamiyah and Arrahman Qur’anic Learning (AQL); and Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI).

There are several reasons why the Islamists are weaker than they were in 2019. The government anti-radicalisation campaign has worked, leaving some of the groups banned and their leaders arrested, and others lying low. They are no longer united. And the country is no longer as religiously polarised as it was in 2019.  

The four groups discussed in the new report have chosen different strategies to respond to government pressure. The FPI, banned in December 2020, changed its name but kept the same initials, and began to focus more on religion and regeneration and less on paramilitary activities. Wahdah Islamiyah drew close to the government and has focused on expanding its educational networks. AQL leader Bachtiar Nasir kept out of the limelight, but also has successfully expanded his schools and online religious outreach programs. While avoiding comment on any domestic issues, he has advised his followers to consider the presidential candidates’ commitment to addressing the Palestinian plight when they make their choice in 2024. HTI, though banned since 2017, has continued its recruiting, training and publication programs as though nothing had happened, but without using its name in public. It will not take part in the 2024 elections.

The groups at present support former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan, but most polls show him running a distant third to Prabowo Subianto, Jokowi’s opponent in 2019 and Defence Minister thereafter, and Ganjar Pranowo, former governor of Central Java. If Anies is eliminated, some Islamists could back Prabowo, but without enthusiasm. Some in Wahdah could back Ganjar, though they dislike him and his party, only because they like his running mate, Mahfud MD. 

Even if the Islamists have been marginalised this time around, they are not a spent force, the report warns. They have unmatched perseverance, resourcefulness, and optimism in the face of adversity, and they are not going away.


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