Friday, July 10, 2009

SBY in TIME Magazine


It hardly looked like a vision of democratic perfection. One presidential candidate was the nationalist daughter of a former strongman, while the incumbent was a retired general whose in-law was just jailed for corruption. Two of the vice-presidential nominees had been accused of directing human-rights abuses during their military careers. Yet the election that took place in Indonesia on July 8 was, in fact, testament to the remarkable political experiment unfolding in the world's fourth most populous nation.

Upwards of 100 million voters scattered across 920-plus permanently inhabited islands went to the voting booth. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was picked for a second term by roughly 60% of the voting populace, according to unofficial results, outpacing rivals Megawati Sukarnoputri and Jusuf Kalla, who garnered around 27% and 13% respectively. Yudhoyono, popularly known among Indonesians by his initials SBY, was expected to win, not least because his first five-year term wasn't syncopated by the constant drumbeat of political and economic scandals that had marred previous Presidents' tenures. Yet the electoral outcome served as much as a vote of confidence for Indonesia's emerging democracy as a referendum on SBY.

Little more than a decade ago, tens of thousands of Indonesians joined together in a people-power overthrow of dictator Suharto, who had ruled for 32 years. Since then, the country has had four Presidents, with peaceful transitions of power between each leader. Indonesia's success at the ballot box has silenced skeptics who doubted whether Indonesia — with its diversity of islands, religions and ethnicities — could mature into a democratic state. Indeed, compared to countries such as Malaysia and Thailand, where democratic institutions are stagnating if not backsliding, Indonesia has cemented its status as Southeast Asia's political role model.

As the world's largest Muslim-majority nation, Indonesia proves that democracy and Islam need not be incompatible. Even though many leaders of Indonesian Islamic political parties first gained inspiration from the Iranian revolution in 1979, Indonesia today is hardly in danger of hardening into a theocracy willing to gun down unarmed protesters. True, Shari'a-based initiatives have proliferated on a local level, and more Indonesian women wear the veil today than three decades ago. But on a national level, Islamic parties fared poorly in April's legislative polls, winning nine percentage points fewer than they did in 2004. In this month's presidential race, attempts by third-place finisher Kalla to court an Islamic vote backfired.

Of course, many Indonesians feel that change hasn't come fast enough. Around 15% of the country subsists below the poverty line. Corruption still corrodes efforts to increase foreign investment and degrades daily life for everyone from pedicab drivers to entrepreneurs. On its graft-perception index that assigns the cleanest country a rank of 1, global corruption watchdog Transparency International rates Indonesia a dismal 126th out of 180 nations, worse than Nigeria and Nepal. But Yudhoyono made tackling corruption a pillar of his first term. In a country where leaders are expected to protect their own family or clan even at the expense of the state, SBY didn't stand in the way of the corruption conviction last month of a prominent banker whose daughter is married to the President's own son.

Indonesia has also been surprisingly unscathed by the global financial crisis. Though exports are down, the country recorded 4.4% growth in the first quarter of this year. Local banks are unburdened with the kind of debt crippling financial institutions in other countries. A monthly consumer-confidence survey elicited the second highest level of optimism since August 2006. Buoying hopes is SBY's choice for Vice President, principled former Central Bank governor Boediono. Investment bank Morgan Stanley is so impressed that it wondered in a June report whether the country should be added to the so-called BRIC club of economic up-and-comers composed of Brazil, Russia, India and China.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono:
The Man Behind Indonesia's Rise

On July 8, voters on the more than 17,000 islands that make up the vast archipelago nation of Indonesia went to the polls to elect the country's President. A final count has yet to be completed, but all signs suggest Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the incumbent candidate, notched up a resounding victory. Since winning the country's first competitive elections in 2004, the former general has been a cool steward of Indonesia's young and often chaotic democracy, denting the country's grim legacy of corruption, cracking down on radical Islamist groups and rebuilding a nation that suffered the brunt of 2005's devastating Indian Ocean tsunami. SBY — Yudhoyono is widely referred to by his initials — is seen as a moderate and honest figure in a nation still emerging from decades of cronyism under the deceased military dictator Suharto. When his triumph is certified, he will become the first President to be re-elected in what is the world's most populous Muslim democracy.

Fast Facts:
• Born in 1949 into a lower-middle class military family in eastern Java, Indonesia's most densely populated island.
• After graduating at the top of his class in the Indonesian national military academy in 1973, he went on to join the army's top brass, and ultimately served as a military observer for U.N. peacekeeping operations in Bosnia during the mid-1990s.
• First shone politically in 2001, when he stood up to then President Abdurrahman Wahid — who was facing impeachment charges — by refusing an order to declare a state of emergency. For supporters, the act sealed his reputation as a man of integrity.

During his presidency, a lasting peace deal has been negotiated with insurgents in the tsunami-struck province of Aceh. Has also drawn praise for blunting the influence of the Jemaah Islamiyah, an al-Qaeda-linked terrorist organization, with a steady string of arrests and detentions.

In the July 8 election, SBY's two main opponents fielded running mates who were also prominent generals under Indonesia's military dictator Suharto. SBY, though, was the only one of the three not being pursued on charges of human-rights abuses.
His choice of Boedino — an astute banker and political newcomer — as his running mate has been hailed as a sign that he intends to cut through some of the bureaucratic red tape that has been a hallmark of Indonesia's murky politics and has stalled the nation's growth in the past.

Though considered to be an even-tempered, if not altogether unexciting, politician, he has a stated affection for music and has composed his own love songs. The latest compilation is titled My Longing for You.

Quotes By:
"I love the United States, with all its faults. I consider it my second country."
(International Herald Tribune, Aug. 8, 2003)
"God willing, in the next five years, the world will say, 'Indonesia is something, Indonesia is rising.' "
— Speaking at a huge election rally in Jakarta. (New York Times, July 4, 2009)
"Today is the people's day."
— After casting his vote on July 8. (South China Morning Post)


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