Research Project (1)

Stuck in Place? Normalization and the Changing Voter Profile of Indonesia’s Islamist Prosperous Justice Party (paper accepted by Journal of East Asian Studies)

Although moderation has been discussed as a key to understanding the trajectory of Islamist parties, its actual impact on the parties’ electoral performances and voter bases has not been fully investigated. I explore this empirical puzzle through a case study analyzing the stagnant electoral performance of Indonesia’s Prosperous Justice Party (PKS). I show that although PKS experienced an influx of voters with diverse backgrounds, the influx was offset by a gradual withdrawal of educated Islamist voters, who had been loyal to the party since its establishment. This change in PKS’s voter profile was not caused by moderation per se, but normalization in the party’s behavior manifesting in joining governments led by non-Islamic parties, the rise of moral overstepping such as involvement in corruption scandals, and factional infighting. The party’s recent conservative turn with an oppositional stance towards the nationalist government was not sufficient to regain votes from its original supporters who already saw PKS as a run-of-the-mill party. PKS’s case implies that alongside increasing pragmatism and pluralism, it is also necessary for Islamist parties to maintain their distinctiveness as an alternative voice in the party system.