The Role of the Nahdlatul Ulama in the 2019 Indonesian Elections

Ibu Yenny Wahid,  a social and political activist in Nahdlatul Ulama, delivered a talk on the role of the Indonesia’s largest Islamic organisation in the country’s politics and her observation on ideological cleavage and other issues in the 2019 elections.


Monday, 25 February 2019 – ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute invited Ms Yenny Zannuba Wahid, a social and political activist in Indonesia’s largest Islamic organisation, Nahdatul Ulama (NU), to speak about the role of NU in the country’s politics. Ms Yenny shared her observation on ideological cleavage and other issues concerned in the 2019 elections.

Moderator Dr Norshahril Saat with Ibu Yenny Zannuba Wahid (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)  

Following the introductory remarks by Dr Norshahril Saat, Ms Yenny began her presentation by explaining the ideological landscape of the country, and the current threat towards Pancasila’s ideology. She observed that the 2019 election is a political life and death situation for the country’s ideology due to three main issues, these are Islamic identity, political accusation towards political leaders, and populist sentiments.

Moreover, there are other issues that also affect domestic political situation closer to the elections. One example is the unresolved cases of anti-corruption activist, particularly in the case of Novel Baswedan. This has caused criticism among activists with regard to the government’s records in handling human rights issues. Ms Yenny also mentioned the rivalry between the police and the military.

In relations to the state, Ms Yenny explained that NU historically had been playing a role as a civil society organisation to challenge the hegemony of the New Order government. However, the mood has changed since the administration of her father, President Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur). It is now actively shaping Islam in Indonesia and supporting the government to face the challenge of an ideological divide, especially radicalism and potential turn to NKRI Bersyariah. NKRI Bersyariah implies that all regulations in this “Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia” must comply with Syariah law.

The candidature of Ma’ruf Amin as a running Vice President would inevitably influence the NU members support. Nevertheless, Ms Yenny stated that NU as an Islamic institution has to stay neutral in politics, yet it should be be involved in the politics of nationhood (Politik Kebangsaan).

Members of the audience sharing a laugh during the Q&A session. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)  

The forum brought together around 35 attendees including academics, diplomats, member of parliament, government officials, students, and activists. The audience engaged in a discussion on a wide variety of topics related to characterisation of Ma’ruf Amin, the role of young ulama, the banning of HTI, and the role of muslimat (Muslim women) in the campaign.