Subject: ST: Now Everyone Wants to Woo Bambang [+AFR; JP]

Australian Financial Review

Thursday, April 8, 2004

Yudhoyono times his run to perfection

By Andrew Burrell

Remember these initials: SBY.

They belong to Indonesia's new presidential frontrunner, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, whose prospects were boosted even further by his fledgling party's astonishing performance in Monday's parliamentary elections.

"These results are very positive, but I must wait until the official results are released," he told The Australian Financial Review in his typically cautious manner, as early counting suggested his Democrat Party had emerged as a new political force.

When asked, however, about his bid for the presidency at separate elections in July, Yudhoyono was far more confident.

If he were elected president, he said, he would move immediately to create jobs, reduce poverty, rebuild Indonesia's crumbling infrastructure and continue to fight terrorism.

"I am very determined to run for the presidency. I have the experience in solving many problems in this country," he said at his home in Bogor, south of Jakarta.

"I was a member of the cabinet for 4 years and I have solved problems such as combating terrorism, dealing with separatism and maintaining law and order.

"I give my promise to the people that I will work hard for our better future, for a more stable and peaceful Indonesia, for a more just and democratic Indonesia."

Yudhoyono said he was prepared to contest the presidency as part of a coalition with another party or parties.

But he said if his Democrat Party "achieved a significant outcome", such as winning more than 10 per cent of the total votes, he would likely run for president on the party's own ticket.

It has been a career-defining week for SBY, a retired general with a reputation as a statesman, a nationalist and a reformer with an intellectual bent.

Two credible surveys have shown he has replaced President Megawati Soekarnoputri as Indonesia's most popular political figure, ahead of presidential elections in July.

Yudhoyono resigned as chief security minister on the day the election campaign started last month after a public spat with Megawati, a decision that in hindsight appears to be a masterstroke.

Freed from his cabinet duties, he was able to embark immediately on a strong nationwide campaign to boost his already surging popularity and tap into the electorate's wide resentment at old-style corrupt politics.

SBY held out for months from resigning his post, which appeared at the time to confirm his reputation for Javanese caution and indecision.

But in the end, he benefited from waiting so long. By hedging for months on whether he really coveted the top job he was able to avoid appearing overly ambitious or disloyal to his boss, Megawati, traits that are frowned upon in Javanese culture.

As a result, most Indonesians believe he resigned because his hand had been forced by a president they regard as increasingly out of touch, and who has presided over endemic corruption and growing unemployment.

SBY is widely seen as an honest politician whose military background and democratic credentials would restore strong leadership to Indonesia without having to revert to the authoritarianism of the Soeharto era.

He is also highly respected and liked by Australian officials because, amid some resistance within the Cabinet, he successfully spearheaded Indonesia's anti-terrorism fight after the Bali bombings 18 months ago.

Yudhoyono is perhaps best remembered by Australians for the extraordinarily heartfelt speech he delivered at the commemoration service in Bali for the one-year anniversary of the bombings.

Yudhoyono moved many to tears with an oration that contrasted with Australian Prime Minister John Howard's lacklustre effort at the same ceremony.

"They were our sons, our daughters, our fathers and mothers, our brothers and sisters, our cousins, our best friends and our soul mates," he said of the 202 people killed in the terrorist attacks. "And they were all innocents."

But let's not completely canonise SBY.

Before formally entering politics he was essentially a New Order military figure who held key positions during some of the more unsavoury episodes of that time, and after Soeharto's fall.

He is also believed to have played a role in planning the infamous 1996 military-backed crackdown on Megawati's opposition party headquarters in Jakarta, in which at least five of her supporters were killed and 23 went missing.

And he served as the military's key policy maker while the Indonesian military oversaw a ferocious killing spree in East Timor in 1999.

Then last year, as Megawati's chief minister for security, he helped plan the military's brutal assault against separatists in Aceh, a futile war that is still raging almost 12 months later.

To his credit, SBY led efforts for months to negotiate with the separatist rebels in a bid to to avoid full-scale conflict, but he then oversaw the launch of the Aceh offensive without an exit strategy.

Yudhoyono told The AFR he was committed to further military reform, promising to continue to disengage the military from politics after it lost its automatic right to seats at Monday's election.

"The military must go back to its main function of a defence role," he said.

---------------------------

The Straits Times Thursday, April 8, 2004

Everyone now wants to woo Bambang

He is riding high with his party's good showing, and the way is open for a presidential bid or an unbeatable alliance

By Derwin Pereira

JAKARTA - What a difference a week makes in politics!

Seven days ago, Golkar and the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) carried the banner of the Big Two. Their dominance was unquestioned.

Today, while they run neck and neck for top spot in the polls, a better-than-expected showing by smaller parties has altered political alignments and thrown up dark horse candidates who need to be courted.

Intense horse-trading is now revolving around one man: Mr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The former security czar who quit the Megawati administration in a huff a month ago has emerged as one of the most serious rivals to the incumbent.

Being courted by different political players, he is what The Jakarta Post describes as 'a new, cute girl at school'.

His approval rating is high - even higher than Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri, who has been riding all along on her cult status as daughter of Indonesia's founding father Sukarno.

His small Democratic Party (PD) has benefited from his popularity. It has performed beyond expectation in this election, with some believing that it could get as high as 7 per cent of the national votes. It paves the way for his presidential bid in July.

He is staring at several options if he goes for broke. One is to ride on the reformasi ticket. At the most extreme, he could align himself with an ad hoc group of Islamic-based smaller parties, including the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), in what some describe as the 'Third Force'.

PKS, like Mr Bambang's party, has been a surprise. Run by young Western-educated men and women, it has campaigned aggressively against corruption, winning significant support.

His running mate here could be the popular Muslim intellectual Nurcholish Madjid, backed on a joint ticket with PKS.

But will the former army general, known for his nationalist disposition, want to rise to power on an Islamic ticket?

The alternative would be to go with Mr Hasyim Muzadi, chairman of the 40-million-strong Nadhlatul Ulama (NU). This looks attractive on paper, but in reality hard to get off the ground.

Mr Hasyim, who is also being courted by Ms Megawati, might have the support of several NU provincial chapters, but he has yet to find a party that will sponsor his vice-presidential candidacy.

He does not have the backing of the Nation Awakening Party (PKB), which is led by former president Abdurrahman Wahid, who continues to wield enormous influence in the NU he once led.

Mr Hasyim might go it alone, but there is no guarantee he can capture the NU ground. The votes will split given that parties such as the PKB and the Muslim-based United Development Party are also drawing support from the country's largest grassroots organisation.

One way to unite the NU vote is for him to make peace with his nemesis, Mr Abdurrahman. But that seems to be a tall order with the ailing cleric veering towards Golkar.

That presents Mr Bambang with a third option: an alliance between Golkar, PKB and PD.

For Golkar, this is a dream team that would steal the crown away from Ms Megawati in a battle that could go into a run-off in September.

A strong win by Golkar in the parliamentary election will strengthen its hand in any coalition talks. It may embolden party leaders to go for broke.

Indeed, with signs emerging that it will clinch the polls, it is now ruling out a coalition with Ms Megawati and PDI-P - touted a month ago by the palace as an unbeatable joint ticket. Golkar chairman Akbar Tandjung, driven by personal ambition, wants the presidency for himself.

But to get there, he needs to get Mr Bambang on board given that his choices for a winning presidential ticket are limited. If brand recognition is a key factor in the presidential race, then he will do wonders for Mr Akbar's waning popularity.

Golkar is attractive for Mr Bambang because it brings along its enormous grassroots machinery that will be key to winning a presidential election. But will he want to be Mr Akbar's deputy? If Mr Bambang goes on a reformasi ticket, almost impossible.

Moreover, relations are somewhat strained between them. Some trace the roots of their problems back three years ago.

Then, Mr Bambang had agreed to run in the vice-presidential election at the National Assembly on the understanding that Mr Akbar would withdraw his own nomination at the last minute and throw Golkar's support behind him.

That did not happen. In the end, it was the Golkar leader who progressed to the final run-off against the eventual winner.

More importantly, with his fortunes rising, Mr Bambang would want the top job himself - with another Golkar candidate such as Mr Jusuf Kalla as his running mate.

Will Mr Akbar give in especially if Golkar wins the polls? The permutations are endless. But increasingly, every potential winning presidential ticket has Mr Bambang's name on it.

Where does that leave Ms Megawati in the wayang of coalition building which will dominate Indonesia's political discussions?

With the PDI-P doing badly in the polls, she is no longer the flavour of the month.

The new, cute girl in school has taken over - for now at least.


Support ETAN, make a secure financial contribution at etan.org/etan/donate.htm

Back to April menu
March
World Leaders Contact List
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu