JAKARTA, Indonesia – The secular party of Indonesia's president tripled its share of the vote in parliamentary elections as support for religious parties nose-dived in the world's largest Muslim-majority country.
After years of unpopular laws pushed through by religious hard-liners, regulating women's dress and banning everything from smoking to yoga, even devout Muslims in Indonesia say they have had enough with religion in politics.
The election victory by the party of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is expected to help him win a second term when a presidential vote is held in July. The former army general who became the country's first democratically elected leader in 2004.
Support for the main Islamist parties in last month's parliamentary polls declined from 39 percent five years ago to just 24 percent, largely because modern, urban voters view them as intolerant.
Voter Rachmadi Khoirin, who prays five times a day and urges his sister to wear a headscarf, said he has grown disillusioned with the role religion has played in politics.
"It's not moral guidance I'm looking for in government, it's pragmatism," said 29-year-old, who works in the back office of a sprawling plastics factory on the outskirts of the capital, Jakarta.
He wants leaders who can deliver jobs, put food on the table and fight corruption, which is still considered by many to be the biggest problem the country faces.
So for the first time in his life, he decided to abandon Islam-based parties, voting instead for the Yudhoyono's ruling Democratic Party.
Official results released late Saturday showed the Democrats easily won the elections, pulling in nearly 21 percent of the vote, compared to 7 percent last time around — buoyed by Yudhoyono's popularity and reform agenda. The second and third-ranking parties were also secular, although both also saw their share of the vote slide.
The Democrats now have 148 seats, the most in 560-member parliament.
Because the remainder are shared between eight other parties — some getting a few as 15 seats and other just over 100 — a mad scramble is under way to form a coalition to push through policies.
The deal-making actually could see various religious parties' political clout strengthened in the next government, though their share of the vote decreased.
Yudhoyono is credited by many with bringing stability following decades of dictatorship and then years of political uncertainty as democracy took root after former military leader Gen. Suharto was ousted amid massive street protests in 1998.
He won popularity by launching a security crackdown that netted hundreds of militants, including several involved in a string of deadly suicide bombings. His administration has overseen the arrest of several high profile politicians and businessmen for corruption.
But a falling out with main coalition partner, Golkar, which is fielding its own candidate in the July presidential vote, means that Islamic parties will remain influential.
Yudhoyono needs a majority in parliament to pass his reform mandate and has indicated he will bring Islamic groups into his coalition — as he did in 2004.
But this time, because the Democrats hold a larger number of seats parliament, he will not need current coalition partner Golkar — the secular party of former dictator Suharto — or other smaller parties.
"It makes political sense to partner up with the Islamists," said Arbi Sanit, an analyst from the University of Indonesia, noting that the two share a pro-poor, anti-graft platform. "It's an alliance that could both strengthen (Yudhoyono's) hand in parliament and convince people on his 'clean government' commitment."
It helps too that Islamic parties recognize, following their pummeling at the polls, they need to reshape their image, he said.
The post-Suharto years have seen more open religious expression — women today can be seen proudly wearing headscarves, business executives go on religious retreats with their employees, some regions even have experimented with sharia-based laws.
Yet Islamists are struggling to find their place in politics, as reflected by the unpopularity of laws championed by hard-liners in recent years.
Fachry Ali, an Islamic scholar at University of Indonesia, said that many voters now cast their ballots based on personality — rather than a party's policy platform or faith.
Voters are disenchanted over how lawmakers from both religious and secular parties have supported controversial laws and been embroiled in corruption scandals, he said.
Most Muslims in Indonesia practice a moderate form of the faith, but an increasingly vocal extremist fringe has gained ground in recent years, influencing policy and making people nervous.
Some regions have even passed Islamic-based laws.
In some areas, women have faced prostitution charges if they were caught walking alone in the streets after dusk. Others have been forced to wear headscarves regardless of their religion. At least one traditional dance has been discouraged, because it is seen as "erotic."
Risma Defriana, a university student, said she did not want to see freedom of belief and expression stifled, and noted that many of these laws "unfairly target women."
A Muslim, she voted for the Democrats.