By NINIEK KARMINI / AP WRITER
JAKARTA — The secular party of Indonesia's president tripled its share of the vote in parliamentary elections and support for religious parties nose-dived—a sign of how even devout believers in the world's most populous Muslim nation are delinking faith and politics.
Many say they've had enough of unpopular laws and edicts pushed through by hard-liners, regulating women's dress and banning everything from smoking to yoga.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Democratic party won the lion's share of the vote in last month's parliamentary poll—21 percent, according to final results released over the weekend—buoyed by his popularity and reform agenda.
That puts him in an even stronger position to win a second, five-year term when Indonesian's pick their new president in July.
He faces a changing political landscape in this secular nation of 235 million, 90 percent of whom are Muslim.
Though people are becoming more religious at home, that has not translated at the ballot box.
Support for the main Islamist parties in the April 9 polls declined from 39 percent five years ago to just 24 percent, largely because modern, urban voters view them as intolerant.
"It's not moral guidance I'm looking for in government, it's pragmatism," said Rachmadi Khoirin, 29, who works in the back office of a sprawling plastics factory on the outskirts of the capital, Jakarta.
He wants leaders who can deliver jobs, put food on the table and fight corruption, which is still considered by many to be the biggest problem the country faces.
So for the first time in his life, he decided to abandon Islam-based parties, voting instead for the Yudhoyono's ruling Democratic Party.
The Democrats now have 148 seats in the 560-member parliament.
Because the remainder are shared between eight other secular and Islamic parties—some getting a few as 15 seats and other just over 100—a mad scramble is under way to form a coalition to push through policies.
The deal-making—and Yudhoyono's fallout with his current, main coalition partner, Golkar—could see various religious parties' political clout strengthened in the next government.
It is now seen as likely that the vice president job or other prominent Cabinet posts could go to the largest and most intolerant of the Islamic group, the Prosperous Justice Party.
Yudhoyono is credited by many with bringing stability following decades of dictatorship and then years of political uncertainty as democracy took root after former military leader Gen. Suharto was ousted amid massive street protests in 1998.
He won popularity by launching a security crackdown that netted hundreds of militants, including several involved in a string of deadly suicide bombings. His administration has overseen the arrest of several high profile politicians and businessmen for corruption.
The former army general has indicated that, despite their drop in popularity, he will bring Islamic groups into his coalition—as he did in 2004 when he became the country's first democratically elected leader.
But this time, because the Democrats hold a larger number of seats in parliament, he will not need Golkar—the secular party of former dictator Suharto and the second-largest vote getter in last month's polls.
"It makes political sense to partner up with the Islamists," said Arbi Sanit, an analyst from the University of Indonesia, noting that the two share a pro-poor, anti-graft platform. "It's an alliance that could both strengthen (Yudhoyono's) hand in parliament and convince people on his 'clean government' commitment."
It helps too that Islamic parties recognize, following their pummeling at the polls, they need to reshape their image. Some people worry that any of their claims of change are politically motivated and that hard-liners would revert to a conservative Islamist agenda once back in office.
The post-Suharto years have seen more open religious expression—women today can be seen proudly wearing headscarves, business executives go on religious retreats with their employees, some regions even have experimented with sharia-based laws.
Yet Islamists are struggling to find their place in politics, as reflected by the unpopularity of laws championed by hard-liners in recent years.
Most Muslims in Indonesia practice a moderate form of the faith, but an increasingly vocal extremist fringe has gained ground, influencing policy and in some cases carrying out terrorist attacks.
Some regions also have passed Islamic-based laws.
There women have faced prostitution charges if they were caught walking alone in the streets after dusk. Others have been forced to wear headscarves regardless of their religion. At least one traditional dance has been discouraged, because it is seen as "erotic."