Editorial – All Praise

Echoing previous sentiments from US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, visiting President George W. Bush appropriately heaped praise on Indonesia this week for its faith-embracing outlook in the face of Islamic militancy.

Indonesia, Bush said, had “a prominent role to play in the world in showing how it’s possible for people to be able to live together in peace and harmony.”

The embattled White House, desperate to gain some traction after the Republicans’ disastrous showing in the midterm congressional elections, is only too willing to showcase a moderate Muslim-majority country like Indonesia – and rightly so – as it shows that democracy can thrive in such a land, and that its people, for the most part, can get on together.

Which is not the case in Iraq, or the wider Middle East, much to President Bush’s vexation.

The American president, after meeting with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Bogor on Monday, also alluded to this country’s “tremendous potential,” and with this, senior government officials in Jakarta, and around the nation, should take note.

Southeast Asia’s largest country – and economy – has during recent years been emerging from the murky cloud of the pan-Asian financial crisis that had crippled it; but Indonesia remains bogged down in widespread corruption, overbearing bureaucracy and an erratic legal system, all of which are severely hampering development.

Some of that is now changing. Along with President Yudhoyono’s “war on corruption,” the government announced this week that it plans to radically overhaul the civil service, cutting about half the circa-four million currently employed. Other measures are being adopted to bolster legal certainty – particular in the key area of investment and foreign property ownership.

All this is good news, and a sign that the country is moving in the right direction, on many fronts. As President Bush remarked: “I admire your president, his commitment to reform and strengthening democracy.”

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