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The Politics of Sharia Law pdf

The Politics of Shari’a Law: Islamist Activists and the State in Democratizing Indonesia

  • Book Title:
 The Politics Of Sharia Law
  • Book Author:
Michael Buehler
  • Total Pages
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  • Acknowledgments page vi
  • List of Abbreviations xii
  • Introduction 1
  • State Elites and the Influence of Islamist Activists 9
  • Islamist Activism and the State 1945–1998 42
  • State Elites and Institutional Change 69
  • The Accumulation of Power in Local Politics after 1998 90
  • Islamist Parties after 1998: Mobilization without Influence 109
  • Islamist Movements after 1998: Mobilization and
  • Influence 132
  • Providing Resources in Exchange for Sharia Regulations 158
  • Conclusion: Summary of Findings and Avenues for Future Research 187
  • Appendix 1 Number of shari’a regulations adopted, 19982013, per administrative unit  
  • Appendix 2 Number of effective candidates in West Java and      
    • South Sulawesi government head elections,
  • 19982013, per administrative unit and year      
  • Appendix 3          Background of local government heads who adopted shari’a regulations, 1998
  • Bibliography 232

State Elites and the Influence of Islamist Activists


After President Suharto left office in 1998, his successor Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie introduced competitive elections, allowed parties to form freely and decentralized political and fiscal powers to provinces and districts. Scholars argue about the democratizing effects of these reforms. Almost all agree, however, that the opening in 1998 has changed the contours of Indonesian politics.1

One of the most visible transformations has been the Islamization of political and public life through hundreds of Islamic regulations adopted by provinces and districts across the archipelago.2

The institutional and legal renovation after 1998 officially remained under the national govern- ment’s authority, but the devolution of political powers gave provinces and districts the authority to draft, adopt and implement local regulations to amend higher-level legislation.

The Islamization of Politics in Indonesia and beyond

Most existing studies analyze the consequences the adoption of sharia regulations had on politics and public life in Indonesia.3 By contrast, this book examines the circumstances that caused these regulations to emerge. The few studies that do investigate the origins of sharia regulations almost all connect the Islamization of Indonesian politics to the emergence of Islamist parties after the demise of the authoritarian New Order regime. After every election in Indonesia and as soon as the results for Islamist parties are in, academics and the media alike begin to ponder anew how the future trajectory of political Islam may look.4

In  this  vein,  scholars  have  argued  that  “radicals”  concentrated  in Islamist  parties5  “[playing]  Muslim  identity  politics”6  for  political ends7 have revived the debate about the proper place of Islamic law in Indonesian  politics  amid  democratization.  

After  winning  elections, these parties adopted sharia  regulations8 as “Trojan Horses”  for an Islamist takeover of Indonesia9 because they failed to push through national  amendments  in  the  constitutional  debates  of  2001,  which would have placed the Indonesian state under Islamic law. In short, Islamist parties emerged and mobilized amid the political opening in 1998 and demanded the establishment of a state based on Islamic law.

Proponents of this theory consider the growing number of sharia reg- ulations across Indonesia to be a symptom of Islamist parties’ increasing assertiveness.

Such explanations, however, are at odds with the empirical situation on the ground. The overall number of votes for Islamist parties has been in steady decline since the first free legislative elections in 1999.10 Struggling for political survival, most Islamist parties have officially abandoned their sharia platforms and adopted more moderate agendas as a consequence.11

 Furthermore, data in Chapter 5 demonstrate that all sharia regulations between 1998 and 2013 were adopted in provinces and districts where secular parties controlled local parliaments. Conversely, the few Islamist party members that won local executive government elections mostly refrained from adopting sharia regulations. In addition, most sharia reg- ulations were adopted by local government heads who had no affiliations with Islamist parties.

Adding complexity to the situation, sharia regulations are not adopted as widely as claimed by previous studies.12 At least 443 sharia regulations appeared between 1998 and 2013.13 Regarding the geographic dispersion of these regulations, data provided in Appendix 1 shows that 44 percent (15/34) of all provinces passed at least one sharia regulation.

 Meanwhile 32 percent (133/412) of all districts and 52 percent (48/93) of all municipalities adopted at least one sharia regulation between 1998 and 2013.14 In short, less than half of all provinces, around one-third of all districts, and slightly more than half of all municipalities in Indonesia have adopted at least one sharia regulation in the period under examination here.

While 85 percent (29/34) of all provinces have approved at least one sharia regulation at the provincial, district or municipal level, the bulk of these regulations cluster in the rural districts of a relatively small number of provinces, as shown in an analysis of the total number of sharia regulations. The provinces with the most sharia regulations are West Java (103),15 West Sumatra (54), South Sulawesi (47), South Kalimantan (38), East Java (32) and Aceh (25). In other words,

67.5 percent (299/443) of all sharia regulations adopted between 1998 and 2013 cluster in only six of Indonesia’s thirty-four provinces. Finally, there is also variance across government layers. Only 9.3 percent (41/443) of all sharia regulations were adopted at the provincial level, as seen in Appendix 1. There is, therefore, great variation in the Islamization of political and public life within Indonesia.

The spread of sharia regulations despite a decline in support for Islamist parties, as well as subnational variance in the Islamization of politics, suggests that such parties, which have a nationwide presence, are not steering the adoption of sharia regulations.

A few scholars have provided alternative explanations for this puzzle. Some argue that it is not Islamist parties driving the adoption of sharia regulations, but rather individuals affiliated with the Islamist cause who joined secular parties during the New Order. After that dictatorship was established in 1965, many Islamist party members joined the regime party Golkar out of opportunism or force. This Islamist migration into Golkar explains why such regulations surfaced in Indonesia after 1998, despite the poor showing of Islamist parties at the ballot box, according to this theory.16

It goes further in arguing that the Islamization of politics in Indonesia varies because politicians adopt sharia regulations mainly in areas that were Islamist party strongholds when Indonesia was an elec- toral democracy in the 1950s.17

Again, empirical evidence does not support these hypotheses. Many of the provinces where politicians affiliated with secular parties have approved sharia regulations since 1998 were not Islamist party strong- holds in the 1950s. For instance, in West Java province, where local governments have adopted the highest number of sharia regulations since 1998, secular-nationalist parties accumulated 51.38 percent of the votes, while Islamist parties garnered 41.83 percent in the 1955 elections.18

 In South Sulawesi, where local governments have adopted the highest number of sharia regulations in Eastern Indonesia since 1998, the Islamist Masyumi party indeed came out on top in the 1955 elections, collecting 39.7 percent of the votes. However, the results have to be interpreted with great care.19

 Many voters were unable to cast their vote due to a rebellion in the province at the time, which is covered in Chapter 2. More important, in South Sulawesi and many other provinces that welcomed sharia regulations after 1998, Islamist party members were deliberately excluded from the Golkar party after 1965.20 Finally, the “Islamization” of Golkar occurred all across Indonesia21 and there- fore cannot explain the variance in the Islamization of politics countrywide.

In short, explanations that see the “greening” of Golkar as the reason secular politicians have adopted most sharia regulations since 1998 fail to cover not only the territorial deviations but also the timing of sharia regulations. The greening of Golkar occurred throughout Indonesia and several decades ago.22 Hence, it is unclear how an Islamist migration into Golkar can spur the adoption of sharia regulations in a conned number of provinces and districts after 1998.

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