Uncovering FPI’s alliance with Soeharto’s children in 2019

Among the parties that are participating in Indonesia’s 2019 elections—and even since the fall of the authoritarian regime in 1998—there has been none more overt in capitalizing on people’s nostalgia for the New Order era than the newly formed Berkarya (Working) Party. Led by Soeharto’s youngest son Hutomo Mandala Putra (better known as Tommy Soeharto), who has a dark record of crime and corruption, and by Prabowo’s former wife Titiek Soeharto, the party is pursuing a policy agenda that seeks to “advance Soeharto’s program”. In its support for Prabowo in the presidential race, Berkarya has now joined an alliance with the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI).

Shortly after Berkarya was ruled eligible for the election contest, Tommy visited FPI’s self-exiled supreme leader Habib Rizieq Shihab in Mecca. Rizieq greeted Tommy and invited Berkarya to join the Prabowo coalition along with the Gerindra Party, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), and the National Mandate Party (PAN). And Rizieq called Berkarya a “nationalist, Pancasilaist” party.

Judged from Rizieq’s outlook on Indonesia’s state ideology Pancasila and on the Soeharto regime, this alliance may provide more evidence of FPI’s opportunistic political behavior. There might be even a theological justification for this alliance.

Rizieq on Pancasila and the New Order

Rizieq is not a layman when it comes Pancasila. His master’s thesis at the University of Malaya, Malaysia, in 2012 was titled Pengaruh Pancasila terhadap Penerapan Syariah Islam di Indonesia (the Influence of Pancasila in the Implementation of Islamic Sharia in Indonesia). In it he delved into how Indonesia’s successive governments have treated Pancasila.

Rizieq’s many writings on Pancasila have been consistent in posing the view that the New Order regime used Pancasila as a tool to repress the Muslim community (ummah). For example, in his 2012 book that popularized the slogan “the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia Based on Sharia” (NKRI Bersyariah), entitled Wawasan Kebangsaan: Menuju NKRI Bersyariah, Rizieq wrote on pages 8-9 (my translation):

In the 1980s, Pancasila was made the sole ideological foundation for Indonesia’s society. It triggered the Tanjung Priok (1984) and Lampung (1989) massacres. It had many prominent Muslims imprisoned, including Kyai Mawardi Noor, Kyai Abdul Qadir Jailani, Kyai Abu Bakar Baasyir, Habib Husein al-Habsyi, Habib Idrus Jamalulail, and AM Fatwa. Even the “Father of Integration”, Mohammad Natsir [referring to his posing the motion for reintegration of the state, from a federal to a unitary one/NKRI, in the parliament in 1950], had his citizenship rights restricted. Syafruddin Prawiranegara, former prime minister for the Republic of Indonesia’s Emergency Government [PDRI], who is credited for saving the Indonesian government when the nation’s leaders were captured by the Dutch, could not escape becoming a victim of this project of ‘Pancasila as the sole foundation’.

The New Order mis-applied Pancasila. Every protest was called subversion to Pancasila, and [the regime’s] eradication of protest was called [a proof of] the sanctity of Pancasila. Everything in Indonesia during the New Order era was linked to Pancasila, including the Pancasila Cabinet, Pancasila Development, Pancasila Economy, Pancasila Functionaries, up to Pancasila Mosque. Even the Football Association of Indonesia (PSSI), when led by Bardosono, introduced Pancasila Football, although the [national team’s] coach was Wiel Coerver from the Netherlands.

During the New Order, Pancasila was pitted against the religion of Islam. Several regional regulations were annulled due to being inspired by the Islamic sharia, as acknowledged by the New Order regime’s former Minister of Home Affairs Amir Mahmud. These are the New Order’s betrayals of Pancasila, in contrast to President’s [Soekarno] Decree on 5 July 1959 declaring that Pancasila is inspired by the Jakarta Charter with the Islamic sharia at its core.

Unless Rizieq has forgotten what he wrote or has revised his stance on the issue above, calling the party that wants to revive the memory over Soeharto a “Pancasilaist” party tells us the essence of his move: FPI is seeking to accommodate as many parties as possible that share its primary goal to bring down President Joko Widodo, hoping at the same time to increase its political leverage, even at the expense of its own ‘ideology’.

Meanwhile, Berkarya is embracing FPI to enhance its acceptability among some members of the Muslim constituency. Titiek Soeharto attended events that were held by the 212 movement (the last reunion in December 2018 and the Prayer Night in February 2019) and has visited many pesantren (Islamic boarding schools). Recently, Berkaya facilitated FPI’s Maulid (Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday) event at At-Tin Mosque which was built by Soeharto’s family. In his speech at this event, Tommy introduced his party’s pursuit of what he called ekonomi kerakyatan, which for him simply means strengthening Indonesia’s national (pribumi) economy and eliminating ‘foreign’ (‘asing’) interference in Indonesia’s economic affairs. In Islamist narrative, Indonesia’s economy being dominated by ethnic Chinese is the main example of this ‘asing’ economic grip.

“It is so worrying if foreign people intervene in retail store distribution because the Muslim majority will be dependent on the minority,” said Tommy, who must have forgotten that his own father had paved the way for ethnic Chinese tycoons to dominate Indonesia’s economy.

The end justifies the means

Alliance with a political party or figure that has a record out of line with its seemingly idealistic Islamic propagation is not new in FPI’s history. Its support of Berkarya, to the extent that some FPI members have now become Berkarya’s legislative candidates, provides further evidence. While Berkarya’s campaign banners across Indonesia contain the iconic Soeharto photo that tries to remind Indonesians of how good life was during the New Order, FPI in its early days issued an official statement (dated 12 November 1998) holding the Soeharto regime and his party Golkar responsible for their wrongdoings against the Muslims.

In the 2009 elections, FPI supported the Jusuf Kalla (Golkar)-Wiranto (Hanura) pairing with the reason that the candidates, in their eyes, have shown commitment to safeguard Islam from blasphemy and deviance (at that time the issue concerned Ahmadis). Four years later, FPI condemned Wiranto for Hanura’s support of the Miss World pageant held in Indonesia in 2013. Four years later, before going into exile in 2017 in the face of multiple legal allegations, Rizieq visited Wiranto, then the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs. In this meeting he confirmed Wiranto’s previous statement that he had been Wiranto’s “old friend”, which is reminiscent of the close connection between the security apparatus and FPI in the early days of Reformasi in 1998.

In the 2009 elections, FPI did not support Prabowo, who at that time was the vice-presidential candidate for Megawati Soekarnoputri. FPI has long opposed a female president since 2001, when Megawati succeeded Abdurrahman Wahid. Nevertheless, Megawati’s vice president Hamzah Haz (from the Islamist United Development Party/PPP) regularly attended FPI’s main events. In 2014, he wrote the preface to Rizieq’s 700-page book Dialog FPI, Amar Ma’ruf Nahi Munkar: Menjawab Berbagai Tuduhan terhadap Gerakan Nasional Anti-Ma’siat di Indonesia (Dialogue with FPI on the “Enjoining the Good and Forbidding the Evil” Teaching: Answering Various Allegations against the Anti-Religious Vices National Movement).

This latest book may provide a clue to FPI’s reasoning for making political alliances: shared goals can take precedence over the problems of FPI’s befriending of secular parties or undevout figures. On page 204, the book justifies FPI’s embrace of (former) thugs in response to their conducting raids against religious vices (maksiat) as their means of redemption. Rizieq cites a hadith (saying attributed to Prophet Muhammad) that states, “Innallaha sayu’ayyidu hadhaddin bir-rajul al-fajir/biaqwam la khalaqa lahum (God may strengthen this religion [Islam] with the support of sinful, unethical men)”.

If this kind of theological justification has been at work in FPI’s mode of alliance making since its founding, what we are seeing this year is either a pragmatic Islamist organization trying to further elevate its bargaining power while there happens to be a good chance; or yet another example of the classic FPI who after two decades still has not realized that it has been repeatedly instrumentalized by irreligious forces for temporary electoral gain.


This article is a translation with a few changes from its original Indonesian version published on Islami.co.

Header image: A Berkarya banner in Yogyakarta (Photo: Azis).



Leave a Reply