Mr. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is set to become Indonesia’s next president. The former general has been projected as the landslide winner of this week’s presidential ballot. His victory could usher in a new era in Indonesian politics: He is the first president of the post-Suharto era who is genuinely qualified to hold that office. Mr. Yudhoyono’s priorities are clear: battling terrorism, fighting corruption and putting the economy on a solid and stable track. Unfortunately, his party holds just 10 percent of the seats in the legislature, and entrenched interests will fight his efforts toward serious reform.
Indonesia’s first directly elected presidential ballot pitted Mr. Yudhoyono against incumbent Ms. Megawati Sukarnoputri. The contrast could not have been greater. Ms. Megawati is the daughter of Indonesia’s founding president, Sukarno, and her popularity rested largely on that lineage. In office, she has been aloof and distant. While this characteristic has marked other Javanese leaders, Ms. Megawati did not provide the leadership or the results that insulated her behavior from criticism.
Mr. Yudhoyono has served in two governments, most recently as Ms. Megawati’s chief security minister. He is credited with working out the plan that allowed the Indonesian military to withdraw from politics in the 1990s and later helped orchestrate the resignation of former President Suharto. Other governments view him as a capable and resolute leader, a ready partner in the fight against terrorism. To Indonesians, he is a can-do figure, with a record of success.
That reputation helped propel Mr. Yudhoyono to victory. With two-thirds of the ballots counted, he has won more than 60 percent of the vote. His inauguration is scheduled for Oct. 20.
Combating the terrorist scourge will be one of the new president’s top priorities. Indonesia has been battered by terrorist attacks that have claimed hundreds of victims, the most recent occurred earlier this month. Counterterrorism efforts have been hampered by Jakarta’s unwillingness to acknowledge the severity of the threat, primarily out of concern for the domestic political impact of an all-out assault on Islamic extremism in the world’s largest Muslim country. Mr. Yudhoyono has vowed to crack down on the terrorists, a move that is long overdue and is critical to regional efforts to fight terrorism.
An equally important job is fighting graft in one of the world’s most corrupt countries. Ms. Megawati was seen as unable or unwilling to clean up the economy; corruption cases were given little priority and prosecutors appeared reluctant to expend much effort on them. The results of several high-visibility cases fostered the impression that the judiciary was either incompetent or compromised. Mr. Yudhoyono’s advisers say that finding a tough and capable attorney general will be one of the new president’s first moves; they also say the new administration will try to streamline Indonesia’s regulations in an attempt to eliminate opportunities to extort money from businesses.
Restoring confidence in the rule of law will be critical to stabilizing Indonesia’s economy. Despite projected growth of 4.8 percent this year, Indonesia has not fully recovered from the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis. Some 40 million people are either unemployed or underemployed; the economy has to grow some 6-7 percent annually to absorb new entrants to the work force. Foreign investment, critical to the country’s future, has been deterred by concerns about corruption and fears of terrorism. Many look to Mr. Yudhoyono to be Indonesia’s Fidel Ramos and inject discipline and legality into the country and the economy, without jeopardizing civilian control over the government or democratic principles. Fighting terrorism and stabilizing the economy are related tasks. The economy will never regain its footing as long as the threat of terrorism exists; and terrorists will continue to find supporters as long as there is little or no hope for better lives.
That logic is clear, but attempts to end the vicious cycle will be impeded by legislative realities. Mr. Yudhoyono’s party holds only 10 percent of seats in Parliament. Attempts to reform the economy will attack interests represented by what is now the opposition: They can be counted on to vigorously fight reform. It is likely, however, that the size of Mr. Yudhoyono’s victory will encourage some opposition members to defect. The new president will try to encourage such moves by reaching out to the former president and her supporters. Indonesia needs a broad-based consensus to move forward. But Mr. Yudhoyono must make sure that he does not make too many compromises in the process. He must remain committed to real reform. The failure to act decisively will condemn Indonesia to drift more, and undermine attempts to stabilize regional economic growth and security.
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