SINGAPORE — Two months after a tsunami ravaged Aceh and parts of North Sumatra province, a joke making the rounds in Jakarta says the initials of In- donesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Vice President Jusuf Kalla, or SBY-JK, stand for Sudah banyak yang jadi korban (“Never have there been so many victims”). Indeed, since Yudhoyono’s inauguration in October, Indonesia has been hit by several earthquakes and floods.
Planning Board State Minister Sri Mulyani has rightfully declared that the Aceh disaster will constitute the administration’s biggest test. The administration’s handling of the disaster serves as a framework in which its overall performance can be gauged in eight ways:
* Yudhoyono has been consolidating the executive office following the weak administration of his predecessor, Megawati Sukarnoputri. Yudhoyono’s ministers now coordinate their positions before commenting on issues in public, lending more coherence to the president. However, concerns have surfaced over Yudhoyono’s compatibility with Kalla, who has a strong personality and has been elected chairman of Golkar, Indonesia’s largest political party in Parliament. Some differences have emerged between the “presidential couple” over Aceh.
* As a result of the Aceh disaster, legislators are being viewed increasingly as irrelevant in the eyes of the Indonesian public. Infighting between the Lower House DPR and the Upper House DPD (which is striving for more power) continued during the Aceh disaster. Legislators, including Aceh’s four DPD representatives, did nothing for Aceh.
* Political parties are undergoing re organization and generational change. After having successfully galvanized public opinion during the three rounds of elections last year, political parties appear to have lapsed into introspection just as Yudhoyono — who was elected through universal suffrage — deems it more appropriate to bypass the parties to govern directly with the people’s support.
* Following the election of Yudhoyono, two radical Muslim parties, the PKS and PBB, seem to have gained a political foothold in Indonesia after supporting his candidacy against established secular parties such as Golkar and PDI-P (Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle). Political Islam has received a boost from the PKS’ well-organized tsunami relief operations, which have rivaled that of the Indonesian military and Western humanitarian agencies in Aceh, winning the hearts of many Acehnese and other Indonesians.
* TNI (Indonesian military) has consolidated its role through operations in Aceh. Following TNI’s decades-long battle with separatists, crucial civilian-military relations seem to have been normalized during recent relief work. At the same time, tensions between Yudhoyono (once a military general) and TNI top brass may have surfaced over the future of the military in Aceh and the timing of official peace talks.
* Beset with failing infrastructure, rampant corruption, rising labor militancy and ineffective decentralization, Indonesia urgently needs to kick-start its economy by attracting foreign direct investment, boost growth to at least 6 percent annually and raise employment. Indonesia needs reconstruction beyond Aceh.
The January Infrastructure Summit in Jakarta highlighted the need to implement key regulations and to emphasize the rule of law. Moreover, Kalla’s perceived nationalistic streak, which worries regional and Sino-Indonesian business people, must be clarified. How to lift fuel subsidies and reform antiquated labor laws will pose immediate challenges.
* Many voted for Yudhoyono with the hope of seeing more social justice in Indonesia, but this has not been forthcoming. Indonesians await the trial of big names in high-profile corruption cases, both in the public and private sectors. Decentralization has indeed led to a “democratization of corruption.”
* Yudhoyono has shown a determination to “open up” Aceh despite strong reservations by the military and Islamic parties. He has also stated his intention to normalize relations with regional as well as international players, including Singapore, the United States, China and Australia. But Indonesia will undoubtedly stake its Islamic credentials first, as indicated by Yudhoyono’s first overseas trip after his inauguration, which was to attend Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s funeral in Cairo.
Balancing Indonesia’s Islamic credentials with his intentions to intensify links with the West will constitute Yudhoyono’s biggest challenge in foreign policy, especially if the second Bush administration maintains its conservative approach to foreign relations in the Middle East.
The above eight facets will underpin evaluations of the Yudhoyono administration over the next four years.
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