Indonesia’s 2009 presidential election:
Toward a true democracy

On July 8, most of Indonesia's 176 million eligible voters cast ballots at 450,000 polling stations set up throughout the country, electing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to a second term in a landslide victory of 60 percent.
On July 8, most of Indonesia's 176 million eligible voters cast ballots at 450,000 polling stations set up throughout the country, electing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to a second term in a landslide victory of 60 percent.
“If I am not re-elected [president] in this election, I will congratulate the newly elected president at once, and I will call all my constituents and fellow Indonesians to honor him or her, and I will keep continuing to make my best efforts for the benefit of the people and the country, including supporting the elected government.
And I pray that God will show the best path for us all, to develop our country into a true democracy,” SBY, Indonesian presidential candidate, in the final debate session, broadcast live on TV on July 2.
That firm and politely expressed statement was made by presidential hopeful Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (popularly known in Indonesia as “SBY”) during the final session of the third round of presidential candidate debates, broadcasted live throughout Indonesia on July 2, when asked what he would do if he did not win the election.
But the election results released on July 8 proved the opposite. Indonesian voters awarded him with a second term in the presidency (2009-2014) in a landslide victory of 60 percent. This statistic obviates the need for a second round of elections which, according to the law, is required if a presidential candidate does not obtain more than 50 percent of all votes cast and a minimum of 20 percent of the vote in at least 17 of the country's 33 provinces (at the time this article was written, SBY had won in 22 provinces). Many political observers also frown on the second round of elections idea due to the gigantic operational cost of holding elections on Indonesia's 17,000 islands, a cost estimated to be at least 2.8 trillion rupiah (approximately $270 million).
Indonesia's 176 million eligible voters cast ballots at 450,000 polling stations set up throughout the country, and the national police spokesman said there had been no reports of election violence.
SBY's victory was predicted by credible surveys as well as by respected international observers before election day even came near. Even though his contenders are by no means lightweights -- Megawati Sukarnoputri (the daughter of Indonesia's most memorable first president, Sukarno, a high-caliber politician who became president following the impeachment of the “eccentric” President Abdurrahman Wahid in 2001, but was later defeated by SBY in the 2004 election) and Jusuf Kalla (a prominent businessman and current vice president of Indonesia as well as the chairman of a strong, but declining, political party, Golkar) -- SBY held on to the presidential post through a grand-scale victory. I will try to list several reasons for his landslide triumph as well as his popularity among Indonesians.
Proven track record: a mandate to continue political and economic reforms
The most important feature brought about by the SBY administration in his last five years in power was his determination to fiercely fight corruption. Under his rule, a significant number of big bankers, politicians, members of parliament, former ministers, high-ranking officials and businessmen who bought off bureaucrats were punished by the Indonesian Corruption Eradication Agency (KPK) and put in prison for breaking the law.
He showed solid support to the KPK; a case in point is his lack of hesitance in dismissing from the Cabinet his top-level ministers who had even the slightest indication of corruption. SBY even allowed the KPK to punish the deputy governor of the Indonesian Central Bank, who is coincidentally his son's father-in-law. In fact, he was the only presidential candidate with a campaign program, among others, to combat corruption. This stems from his firm belief that a clean government is a prerequisite for a healthy country, with a stable and growing economy that provides social justice to all people.
On a similar line, SBY has consistently and thoroughly reformed the social and political role of the military, which was very powerful during the Suharto regime, which ended in 1998. There have been no interventions by the military and/or police in the political arena. His decision to assign a civilian to the effective minister of defense position was also considered very reformative by observers. Other notable achievements during his first term presidency were a remarkable decline in fundamentalist terrorism, which had risen sharply in early 2001, as well as internal conflict that has haunted Indonesia as a big country of more than 300 ethnicities. Notably, the finest example was his successful dealing with the Aceh conflict, which ended through a peace agreement in Helsinki that put an end to a 30-year-long war in the region. The area is now beginning to attract investment and economic growth.
In the economic sphere, an impressive record of five years of solid economic growth, including 6 percent-plus gross domestic product (GDP) growth in 2007-08, a respectable performance for any economy during today's global financial crisis, has been key to the trust of Indonesian voters. Recently, Indonesia's $433 billion economy grew 4.4 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier, compared with contractions of 6.2 percent in Malaysia and 7.1 percent in Thailand. In his second term, SBY pledged 7 percent growth, up from 5.7 percent since taking office in 2004.
Indonesia's per capita gross national product (GNP) has also almost doubled from $1,200 to $2,300 during his term. He managed to repay all International Monetary Fund (IMF) loans ahead of schedule and took the bold step to dissolve the Consultative Group for Indonesia (chaired by the World Bank), which had, in one form or another, handled the country's sovereign loans since the 1960s. It comes as no surprise then that the debt ratio declined from 54 to 32 percent.
The quality of growth has not been neglected either, with direct cash transfers, salary hikes and pro-community programs in food, health and education assisting the needy in an age of escalating energy and food prices. The unemployment rate fell from 9.9 percent in 2004 to 8.5 percent in 2008. In the same period, poverty declined from 16.7 percent to 15.4 percent.
Indonesia's economy, unlike all its regional partners in Southeast Asia, is still growing strongly. In Jakarta last week, leading economists were upbeat and confident that Indonesia had come through the worst of the global financial storm.
In the last two years, SBY also succeeded in shifting Indonesia from being the biggest importer of rice in the world to being a sustainable rice producer and now starting to export it. He also paid attention to the well being of 6 million Indonesian migrant workers working abroad by seriously negotiating with recipient countries such as Malaysia and Middle Eastern countries.
SBY: a well-liked character
SBY is popular with many Indonesians because of his politeness and patient character. He never makes hurtful statements in public or in private. In his campaign, he strongly requested his constituents and his Democrat Party protect themselves from engaging in smear campaigns against his competitors, both in the general and presidential elections.
On the other hand, Indonesians remember Mr. Yudhoyono's predecessor, Sukarnoputri, in a dramatically different light. As the daughter of the country's first president, Sukarno, she initially evoked sentiments of nationalist pride and hopes for a return to the imagined glories of her father's era. Using the Sukarno name as her main calling card, most Indonesians did not seem to notice her lack of depth in policy issues. But soon after rising to office, Ms. Megawati's supporters very quickly realized that she was out of her league.
In a recent business forum, Ms. Megawati said she could expand the economy by 11 percent -- when she was queried how she would achieve growth rates exceeding those of China, her only reply was that she did not yet have any specific policy ideas. Lacking substance, it is unlikely Ms. Megawati's tales of future prosperity will be bought by Indonesians.
On the psychological stage, Ms. Megawati, the incumbent president who was defeated by SBY in the presidential election of 2004 (60 percent voted for SBY and 40 percent for Megawati in the second round), still seems to be unable to have a healthy relationship with her rival. She, for example, was not happy about the results of the election at the time, showing her unwillingness to congratulate, shake hands with or ever attend any event held by President SBY in the presidential palace on the occasion of Indonesia's Independence Day celebrations. To many Indonesians, this “jealous and childish” attitude simply does not demonstrate a true statesman in a democratic country.
The other candidate is Mr. Kalla, the incumbent vice president and a multi-millionaire businessman. He and his supporters claimed that he is a “real” president. In his campaign, running under the slogan of “faster is better,” he undermined SBY, painting him as a slow decision-maker and an indecisive leader. He also jealously guarded his reputation as a major player in securing the peace deal with the Acehnese in 2005, reacting sourly to any claims of credit being due to Yudhoyono. Despite a reputation for charisma and quick-witted one-liners, polls show Kalla's support as lagging far behind that of SBY.
Mr. Kalla and Ms. Megawati have certainly not helped their chances of winning through their choices of running mates. Mr. Kalla picked retired Gen. Wiranto, a former Suharto adjutant commander-in-chief of the Indonesian Armed Forces. Ms. Megawati joined forces with Prabowo Subianto, another retired lieutenant general and a former in-law of Suharto. Both vice presidential candidates share a tainted past as concerns the country's human rights record. Both generals are currently barred from entering the United States.
In stark contrast, Mr. SBY's running mate is Boediono, a professional economist and a widely respected technocrat who until recently was head of Indonesia's central bank. Holding a doctorate in business economics from Wharton, the soft-spoken Mr. Boediono is not only recognized as a highly competent public official, but a clean one as well.

*Dipo Alam is an Indonesian citizen and the secretary-general of D-8 Organization for Economic Cooperation.

16 July 2009, Thursday