Q+A - Indonesian Islamist PKS party eyes broader support

JAKARTA Thu Jun 17, 2010 3:42pm IST

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JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia's Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) is holding its second national congress in Jakarta this week where it will discuss key policies.

The Islamist party is the third-biggest in President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's coalition, and lifted its share of the vote in the 2009 elections when most Islam-based parties lost support.

Here are some questions and answers about the PKS:

WHAT ARE ITS ECONOMIC POLICIES?

The PKS was one of the coalition parties most critical of Yudhoyono's top reformers -- former Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati and Vice President Boediono.

"The PKS has branded Boediono, Mulyani and others as 'neolib', a vague, pejorative term, and an attack on the market-friendly economic philosophies and policies of Indonesia's influential 'technocrats'," economist Hal Hill wrote recently.

It has said it favours reducing energy and electricity subsidies over the longer term but is in no hurry to remove what many economists consider an expensive burden on the state.

The PKS argued against a plan to raise electricity tariffs by 10 percent in July, a move many economists say is necessary so that state power firm PT Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN) can extend and improve the electricity network.

Parliamentary faction chief Mustafa Kamal said the PKS supported reducing the fuel subsidies bill so funds could be targeted towards payments to the poor, but that this was a long term goal rather than a policy priority.

WHAT IS ITS STANCE ON FOREIGN INVESTMENT?

The PKS is keen to attract investment from the Middle East and Muslim-majority countries. Its 2008 manifesto advocated the creation of a special trade bloc with other Muslim countries that would use gold dinars as its currency.

Agriculture Minister Suswono, a PKS member, toured Saudi Arabia this month to promote investment in Indonesia.

WHAT IS ITS STANCE ON CORRUPTION?

Kamal told Reuters that bureaucratic reform and clean governance were needed to attract investors.

The PKS has won grassroots support for its tough line on corruption. Communications and Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring, former PKS president, told Reuters last year he favoured capital punishment for the worst cases of corruption.

But the party's credentials have suffered after local media reported that a PKS lawmaker had been detained for allegedly using a fake letter of credit worth $22.5 million from Bank Century, a small lender that the government bailed out in 2008.

DOES THE PKS TAKE A TOUGH MORAL LINE?

The PKS believes religious values should be reflected in social policy to address what it sees as Indonesia's moral crisis. Sembiring has campaigned hard for tighter Internet controls to ban what he describes as "negative" content on the web, and last year said natural disasters such as earthquakes were linked to immoral television shows.

PKS members in Aceh, where sharia law is practised, have supported the introduction of a strict penal code that would see adulterers stoned and homosexuals lashed.

HOW MUCH INFLUENCE DOES PKS WIELD OVER POLICY?

Not a great deal. It failed to prevent the electricity tariff hike and Sembiring was forced to back down after his plan to tighten Internet controls sparked a public outcry.

But it did play an important role in pushing through a controversial anti-pornography law in 2008.

The PKS has four ministries: agriculture, information and communications, social affairs, and research and technology. PKS ministers can exert some influence over their portfolios but Yudhoyono recently reminded ministers that any draft regulation must be run past him first, an apparent rebuff to Sembiring whose draft Internet regulation was strongly opposed by the public.

Economic reforms started by Indrawati and carried on by her successor, Agus Martowardojo, are likely to continue without too much interference from PKS.

CAN THE PARTY BROADEN ITS APPEAL?

The PKS says it is based on the values of Islam. Many of its senior members have been educated in the Middle East, and sometimes speak to each other in Arabic rather than Indonesian.

It says it wants to remain true to its Islamic roots but broaden its support to boost parliamentary representation.

Secretary General Anis Matta has said the party aims to recruit 1.2 million new members over the next five years.

"Our motto is 'PKS for all'," Matta was quoted saying by the Jakarta Post on Thursday.

The party has invited the ambassadors of the U.S., China, Germany and Australia to speak at its national congress and is hosting a special session on U.S. views on Islam.

There are some Christians among its cadres, mostly in Christian-majority areas in eastern Indonesia.

"I think when it comes to serious policy, PKS are probably a force for reasoned debate. Yes, there is some huffing and puffing on populist issues but at the end of the day they are not opposed to a rational policy position," said Jakarta-based political analyst Kevin Evans, from election monitoring group Pemilu Asia.

"They are hardly what you would call libertarians but they are quite practical."

(Additional reporting by Olivia Rondonuwu; Editing by Sara Webb and Andrew Marshall)

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