Understanding the Direction of Nahdliyin’s Voice

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Nahdliyin is not a singular entity. It has many faces and facets. It appears to carry a self-contradictory nature. While it adheres to the traditions of humility (tawaduk) and unquestioning obedience (sami’na wa ato’na) towards the kiai as central figures, diversity remains inherent within the Nahdliyin community, especially when it comes to preferences and political choices.

PKB Vote Acquisition (katadata)

Therefore, if any political party or political force claims to have gained control or obtained the majority of votes from Nahdliyin or the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) congregation, they are likely to be misled. Historical facts indicate that the votes of Nahdliyin have never been confined to a single political basket. They have always been scattered across nearly all political parties.

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We can compare the data on the number of Nahdliyin with the electoral performance of NU-affiliated political parties or those claimed to be supported by NU. In Indonesia’s history, the first General Election (Pemilu) was held in 1955. At that time, NU had separated from Masyumi and formed its own political party, the NU Party, as a participant in the election.

In the 1955 election, the winner was the Indonesian National Party (PNI) with 22.32 percent of the vote. Second and third places were held by Masyumi with 7,903,886 votes (20.92 percent) and NU with 6,955,141 votes (18.41 percent). Although the NU Party ranked in the top three, this data shows that not all NU members cast their votes for the NU Party. Nahdliyin’s votes were spread far and wide, including to PNI and Masyumi, among other parties. If all Nahdliyin had voted for the NU Party, it would have secured between 30-40 percent of the vote. The assumption at the time was that 90 percent of Indonesia’s population was Muslim, and more than half of Indonesia’s Muslim population were Nahdliyin or affiliated with NU.

Post-reform election data also confirms this historical trend, which has continued to the present day, even after NU gave rise to the National Awakening Party (PKB). For example, in the 1999 election, PKB received 13.2 million votes or 12.62 percent. This trend continued to decline, especially after Gus Dur left PKB. In the 2004 election, PKB’s vote share dropped to 10.56 percent. PKB’s vote share further plummeted to 4.95 percent in the 2009 election. While PKB managed to “rebound” in the last two elections, it has never reached the levels of the past. In the 2014 and 2019 elections, PKB received 9.04 percent and 9.69 percent of the vote, respectively, still below the 10 percent threshold.

The trend in PKB’s vote share, as a political party born from NU, stands in stark contrast to the data and the mass strength of Nahdliyin. NU is the largest Islamic mass organization in the world. According to research, in 2013, the estimated NU membership reached 40 million people, surging to 95 million in 2021. This doesn’t even include those who verbally identify as NU members.

Based on research in 2022, the total Muslim population in Indonesia reached 250 million or 260 million people out of a total population of approximately 280 million. Of this Muslim population, around 56.9 percent identify as Nahdliyin or are affiliated with NU. This means that the current number of NU members could be over 140 million people, approximately half of Indonesia’s total population and nearly half of the total eligible voters in elections.

Based on this data, if there were a political party that represented the exclusive voice of NU, it would automatically win elections. However, PKB, the party created to accommodate the political aspirations of NU members, has never won an election, even after the 1999 election when it peaked. In other words, the votes of NU members have consistently flowed in various directions. They have never been centralized. This is also confirmed by the fact that throughout Indonesia’s political history, except during the New Order regime, no election winner has ever secured the majority of votes in the sense of 50+1 percent. Winning parties have only been able to garner less than 25 percent of the vote.

These historical data and facts can be used as reference points for understanding the direction of Nahdliyin’s votes in the upcoming General Election and Presidential Election (Pilpres) in 2024. For example, even though PKB has formed a coalition with the Nasdem Party (and possibly PKS) and nominated Anies Baswedan and Muhaimin Iskandar as presidential and vice-presidential candidates, it can be assured that Nahdliyin’s votes will not automatically gravitate towards them.

In the 2024 Pilpres, for instance, it is not a given that Nahdliyin members will vote for the Anies Baswedan and Muhaimin Iskandar (Cak Imin) ticket, despite Cak Imin being an NU member and claiming support from many NU kiai. The votes of NU members will still be spread across multiple parties, and their choice for the presidential and vice-presidential candidates will not be uniform.

This is evident in many surveys, where PKB’s electability remains around 9 percent, and Cak Imin’s chances as a vice-presidential candidate have never exceeded 1 percent. This is also confirmed by a survey conducted by the Indonesian Survey Circle (LSI) Denny JA among NU voter respondents. This NU voter-based survey was conducted in early August 2023 and involved 1,200 respondents. The sample was selected using a multistage random sampling method.

According to the LSI Denny JA survey results, PKB is not the exclusive political choice of Nahdliyin members. In LSI Denny JA’s projections, PKB’s vote share may increase but only to around 11.6 percent. The ultimate winner remains the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) with a vote share of 21.9 percent. Based on the survey among NU voter respondents, LSI Denny JA concludes that the votes of NU members are distributed across many parties, including PKS, which is ideologically “opposed” to NU.

This means that the battle for the votes of NU members remains wide open, especially for presidential and vice-presidential candidates, despite PKB’s nomination of Anies Baswedan and Cak Imin. Both Anies Baswedan-Cak Imin and Prabowo Subianto and Ganjar Pranowo will have equal opportunities to compete for the votes of Nahdliyin members.

With such a widespread distribution of votes, predicting and deciphering Nahdliyin’s support remains challenging. However, wherever it may ultimately align, the Nahdliyin vote will determine the election winner due to its significant size. Whoever can secure the most votes from Nahdliyin members will emerge as the winner.

*translated from here.

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