"Indonesia's Muslim electorate is not interested in an Islamist agenda. Indonesia is a very religious country, there's a lot spirituality, and this is increasing in public life. But that doesn't mean that Indonesians want a religious state," says Robin Bush, country director of the Asia Foundation.
Since 2003, Islamic laws, or , have been passed by dozens of local legislatures across Indonesia – in some localities, unaccompanied women have been subject to nighttime curfews. Though these laws are often loosely enforced, critics say they represent a creeping militancy. Extremist Muslim groups have also used violence to drive out minority Muslim sects such as Ahmadiyah, largely unchecked by secular authorities.
Such tactics are aided by the targeting of moderate organizations, whose mosques are being usurped by conservatives from PKS and other groups, says Ahmad Suready, executive director of the Wahid Institute, a liberal think tank in Jakarta. This poses a long-term threat to the inclusiveness of Islamic practice in Indonesia, whatever the outcome at the ballot box, he argues.
"When they can't get power from political party, they use the tools of civil society," he says.
PKS officials argue that they are offering a democratic choice to voters and tailoring their policies to meet the needs of all Indonesians. They deny that their belief in Islamic justice is divisive and point out that secular lawmakers have also passed Islamic laws. But they concede that Indonesia may not be ready for such policies.
"We have to work with other parties. That was our mindset from the beginning," says Ahmad Zainuddin, one of the party's founders and a legislative candidate in Jakarta.