April 1, 2009 / 11:42 AM / 10 years ago

Polygamous Indonesia politicians may lose female votes

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Polygamy is turning into an election issue among some women voters in officially secular, predominantly Muslim Indonesia, after a feminist group listed several Islamist politicians alleged to have more than one wife.

The list could potentially hurt the election chances of politicians from the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), an Islamist party positioning itself as a potential ally or coalition partner for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ahead of the April 9 parliamentary elections and July 8 presidential poll.

Indonesia allows polygamy but a man can only get court approval to take a second wife if his first wife agrees, or if she is disabled or cannot have children.

The practice is frowned on by many educated, middle class women.

“Women pay attention to this issue,” said Yeni Rosa Damayanti, coordinator of the Indonesian Women’s Solidarity which compiled the list.

Several politicians from the PKS and other small Islamist parties feature on the list, but party leaders were quick to dismiss it as a smear tactic.

“This is part of a black campaign,” said PKS chairman Tifatul Sembiring, who is named as one of the polygamous candidates, along with PKS party officials Didin Amaruddin, Anis Matta, and Zulkieflimansyah.

Sembiring declined to say if he and the other three PKS members were in polygamous marriages.

“This is a political party, we don’t control the private lives of cadres,” he said in a telephone text message to Reuters. “I say ‘mind your own business’.”

But Damayanti said polygamy is a turn-off for female voters, adding that politicians were right to be concerned.

“Their response shows they are worried. We are still collecting names for the list and in the long term, yes, we think it will damage their political interests,” she said.

Nasaruddin Umar, the director general of the office of Islamic Guidance at the Department of Religion, said there are no statistics on how many Indonesians are in polygamous marriages there, but that more Indonesians are citing polygamy as a reason for divorce these days.

Data from the Department of Religion showed that in 2005, 105 listed polygamy as the reason for divorce, rising to 502 couples in 2006. Figures for 2007 and 2008 are yet to be released.

The list released by Indonesian Women’s Solidarity also named a member of the Islamic National Mandate Party (PAN) and two members of Islamic United Development Party (PPP).

Chozin Chumaidy, deputy chair of PPP, could not confirm whether PPP members on the list were in polygamous marriages.

“But even if they were, it would not be a problem for us as long as the marriages are in accordance with Islamic law and state law,” he said.

“Many Indonesian women don’t see polygamy as a problem.”

Editing by Sara Webb and Jerry Norton

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