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Polls: Indonesia's Muslim Parties Struggle in Upcoming Elections

As voters in Indonesia prepare to go to the polls Thursday, Islamic political parties are struggling to retain support. But traditional Islamic values are still strong.

Although Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population, Islamic political parties have lost support and polls indicate they are not expected to do well in this week's legislative elections.

Opinion polls show Indonesians are increasingly concerned about down-to-earth problems like the economy and society rather than religion.

Muslim parties that once focused heavily on Islamic values have had to become more centrist to try to appeal to voters.

Mohamad Sohibul Iman is a candidate for the Prosperous Justice Party, one of Indonesia's larger Muslim parties.

"This is what we are doing now, we are shifting to be more center. Because, we believe that Indonesian population, even 90 percent is Muslim, but the degree of affiliation to Islamic values it is very different," he said.

Opinion polls show support for Muslim political parties is down by half from the last elections.

Researcher Sunny Tanuwidjaja, of Jakarta's Centre for Strategic and International Studies, says despite the loss of political support, conservative Islamic values are still strong among the public.

"Religious conservatism, in my opinion, are increasing in Indonesia. There are a lot of local laws that is based on some conservative ideas, conservative religious values, which is very very dangerous for pluralism," he said.

The Indonesian government last year passed a controversial "anti-pornography" law that could be used to ban, among other things, traditional dances and kissing in public.

While the degree of public support for the law is not clear, thousands gathered to demonstrate in favor of it.

There were also efforts to ban Ahmadihyah, a sect of Islam that believes in another prophet. Despite being a secular nation with a history of religious tolerance, the Indonesian government last year ordered the group to stop spreading beliefs outside of mainstream Islam.

Rights groups condemned the action as an attack on religious freedom and critics accused President Yudhoyono of bowing to hardliners.