Radical cleric Bashir may run for president
Fabio Scarpello in Denpasar
Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, who is believed to be the spiritual leader of the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) terror group, is considering running for the presidency in Indonesia's next election, an aid revealed.
Fauzan Al Anshori, spokesman for the Bashir-chaired Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia, an umbrella group campaigning for sharia law, said the cleric had yet to make a decision but was considering running in 2009.
'I, among others, have asked him to run and he said that he may try, if there is strong popular support,' Mr Fauzan said. 'We want him to stand because we need a clean leader.'
Mr Fauzan said he would be confident of a Bashir victory, stating that the cleric's first priority as president would be to turn Indonesia into an Islamic state.
'I have no doubt that in a fair and free election [Mr Bashir] would win. There is a lot of support for what he stands for,' he said.
'He would work to apply sharia. The legal system we have is based on laws left by the Netherlands, the former colonial power, which are unsuitable for Muslims.'
Recent studies estimate that 85 per cent of Indonesia's 240 million inhabitants are Islamic.
According to a recent poll by the Societal Research Centre, Indonesians trust their religious leaders more than the president or the armed forces.
Religion also appears to be the most important symbol of national identity, although most support 'Pancasila', a secular five-point ideology, as the foundation of the constitution rather than sharia, which was only backed by 22.8 per cent of the respondents.
However, although sharia is currently allowed only in Aceh, many districts have recently brought in Islamic laws.
Mr Fauzan said he hoped the government's forthcoming draft political laws would allow independent candidates to run for the presidency, rather than requiring them to be nominated by political parties, as is currently required.
'Political parties are all corrupt, and [Mr Bashir] would be better off as an independent candidate,' he said.
Sidney Jones, Southeast Asia director of the International Crisis Group, said Mr Bashir would easily find a sponsor-party if he wanted, but his candidacy would contradict his lifelong ideological stance.
'There are many right-wing Islamic parties happy to support Bashir. But entering a democratic electoral process would discredit him greatly, [considering] all he has said in the past decades,' said Dr Jones, a JI expert.
Mr Bashir has always said he did not recognise the Indonesian state and its institutions, such as the parliament and the president, because they were man-made rather than created by spiritual powers. A frail 69-year-old with a thin beard, an embroidered white skullcap and heavy glasses, Mr Bashir was convicted in 2005 of conspiracy to commit acts of terror, but the conviction was overturned.
The cleric has always denied any involvement with JI and even denied its existence.
The terror group is allegedly fighting to unite most of Southeast Asia into a caliphate. It is accused of a string of attacks across the region, including the 2002 Bali bombing that killed 202 people.