Re-election raises hope of bold Indonesian government

The next challenge for Indonesia’s president, after winning re-election in a likely landslide, will be assembling a government that is bold enough to take on persistent corruption, poverty and human rights violations seen to be holding back the young democracy.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a 59-year-old retired general and the first directly elected head of state in this predominantly Muslim nation of 235 million, helped Indonesia move beyond an era wracked by secessionist conflicts, Islamist militancy and vast financial uncertainty.

But he faces a tall order in fulfilling campaign vows to take Indonesia’s newfound stability to a higher level and deepen democratic reforms.

To boost credibility abroad, Yudhoyono needs to bring together a government team of experts and economic technocrats who put the interests of the country above personal gain, Anies Baswedan, a senior political analyst at Jakarta’s Paramadina University, said Thursday.

“I expect him to be bolder in making his appointments,” Baswedan said, noting that Yudhoyono has a stronger mandate than during his first five-year term that began in 2004. “He will capitalize on that power.”

Yudhoyono’s choice for vice president — the former central bank governor Boediono, an economist who previously had few political ties — was widely seen as a positive signal.

Indonesia is routinely ranked among the most corrupt nations in the world by anti-graft campaigner Transparency International. Its parliament, police force and judiciary are considered the most tainted institutions, but corruption is part of everyday life in a country where up to 100 million people live on less than $2 a day.

During Suharto’s brutal 32-year dictatorship, hundreds of thousands of Indonesians died in military operations across the vast archipelago of 17,000 islands. Profit from natural resources was divided between cronies, political insiders and the Suharto family, which amassed tens of billions of dollars and remains a powerful, behind-the-scenes force today.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say the elite still enjoy a large degree of impunity in the courts — no one has ever been punished for the abuses under Suharto — while soldiers and the police get away with systematic brutality, particularly against prisoners, sex workers and the poor.

“We have to be open with the fact that human rights is still one of the biggest issues that remains unresolved,” said Sunny Tanuwidjaja, an analyst at the independent, Jakarta-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It is not an interest of a majority of Indonesians but … it is a fundamental aspect of democracy.”

Yudhoyono has cultivated an image as a man of high moral integrity. On his watch, the Corruption Eradication Commission put scores of dirty officials behind bars, including a dozen members of parliament and a governor who is also his son’s father-in-law.

Over the past 18 months, Yudhoyono’s administration pumped billions of dollars into cash handouts for the poor and fuel cuts, policies that helped his party triple its seats in legislative elections in April.

On Wednesday, the presidential poll passed calmly at 450,000 polling stations and a preliminary count by the National Election Commission Thursday indicated Yudhoyono had 62 percent, based on more than 18.7 million ballots counted.

Former President Megawati Sukarnoputri was second at 28 percent with Vice President Jusuf Kalla, the leader of Suharto’s former political machine, Golkar, third with 10 percent.

Among the majority of Indonesians who voted for Yudhoyono on Wednesday was Antung Abdullah, a 54-year-old school teacher who expects him to up the ante in combating corruption and boosting the economy.

“No matter how strong or how fast you are, if you have so many corruptors it means nothing,” he said, casting a ballot in the capital of 13 million, Jakarta. “Corruption is a disease.”


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