With Re-election, Yudhoyono Gets Boosted Mandate for Change

JAKARTA ~ The likely re-election of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is generally seen as a vote for more reform in a country once characterised by corruption and chaos.

But many question whether the liberal ex-general really has what it takes to fix the country’s myriad problems in his second and final term.

Unofficial early counts have Yudhoyono winning around 60 percent of Wednesday’s vote, beating ex-president Megawati Sukarnoputri and incumbent Vice President Jusuf Kalla without the need for a runoff election.

The strong mandate frees Yudhoyono to deepen political and economic reforms pursued since his 2004 election, but analysts argue that he will run up against a slew of challenges – not least his own record of indecisiveness.

“I think this (result) is a reflection of the trust of the people in the Yudhoyono government,” Centre for Strategic and International Studies analyst Bantarto Bandoro said.

“I think this is a good opportunity for SBY to regain charge,” he said, referring to the president by his initials.

Yudhoyono won plaudits in his first term for overseeing a period of unprecedented stability in the democratic transition following dictator Suharto’s 1998 fall.

Under his watch, the government reached a 2005 peace deal with separatist rebels in Aceh that ended a bloody 30-year war. A police crackdown also put the Jemaah Islamiyah militant group – responsible for deadly attacks, including suicide bombings in Bali in 2002 and 2005 – on the back foot.

The government has also made strides against a deeply entrenched culture of corruption and ensured macroeconomic stability.

With trusted former central bank governor Boediono as his incoming vice president, Yudhoyono’s main challenge is reforming Indonesia’s moribund bureaucracy and laying the groundwork for future growth, political scientist Dewi Fortuna Anwar said.

Thanks to their alliance with the president, a number of Islamic parties will have a stronger hand in a second Yudhoyono administration, despite their poor showing in April legislative elections.

But while he should have a freer hand appointing capable technocrats to his cabinet, without a parliamentary majority overall, he will be beholden to a parade of politicians hardly known for putting the national interest first.

Indonesia has weathered the global economic storm better than most, with over four percent growth this year.

But with little export and employment growth, the effect of the crisis was milder simply because Indonesia was less plugged in to the global economy, Anwar said.

“I don’t think he is looking at anything new, or any breakthrough policies,” she said. “Yudhoyono can never be more decisive than he is at the moment … he was born like that.”

There are also concerns among anti-corruption officials that Yudhoyono is losing steam in the anti-graft fight, and may even be souring on the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), the independent body responsible for a series of high-profile arrests.

Former KPK deputy head Erry Riyana Hardjapamengkas said this week that Yudhoyono appears to be allowing senior police officers to pursue trumped-up cases against KPK officials aimed at crippling the body.

“I think SBY has no idea. He has a commitment to combat corruption but he doesn’t have a clear agenda on how to combat corruption,” Transparency International Indonesia secretary Teten Masduki said.

Mandatory term limits mean that Yudhoyono will be unable to run in 2014, so that could open the door for the dynastic succession of his own children and Megawati’s.

The next election could also provide an opportunity for a presidential pitch by Megawati’s running mate Prabowo Subianto, an ex-general with a patchy human rights record, ample funding and a populist economic message.

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