Subject: AGE: In Indonesia, appearances can be deceiving

The Age

In Indonesia, appearances can be deceiving July 8, 2004

Western favourite Yudhoyono may not become president - and that might be for the best, writes Damien Kingsbury.

It was little surprise that the former lieutenant-general, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, was returned as the most favoured candidate in the first round of Indonesia's presidential elections on Monday, even if his vote was well below the most recent polls. But in Indonesian politics, things are not always how they appear.

Yudhoyono was polling about 45 per cent before Monday but, based on a nationwide sample by the National Democratic Institute, he looks to have secured about 34 per cent of the actual vote. This means that, despite some predictions of an outright victory in the first round, Yudhoyono will have to go to Indonesia's second presidential round in September.

Yudhoyono's slippage reflected his lack of reach into the villages, where most voters still live. This is because Yudhoyono does not control a party machine that can match either former general Wiranto's Golkar - the party of former president Soeharto - or Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P). Advertisement Advertisement

It was also widely expected that the incumbent, Megawati Soekarnoputri, would lose votes in this election, based on the polls but, more importantly, on the results from the legislative elections in April. NDI's figures show her just 1 per cent ahead of Wiranto, on 24 per cent, and with a margin of error of just over 1 per cent. That is, the race between Megawati and Wiranto is neck and neck.

Wiranto has climbed from about 5 per cent popularity only a few weeks ago, reflecting the efficacy of a party machine and vote-buying.

If Megawati stays ahead of Wiranto, after dropping out, he will probably allocate his support, and that of Golkar, to Yudhoyono, who will consequently romp home in September.

However, if Wiranto edges ahead of Megawati, as third-placegetter, she is unlikely to support her former politics and security minister, Yudhoyono, and will probably back Wiranto. If this happens, Wiranto will be a real chance for the presidency.

International opinion has Wiranto as an undesirable president because, as commander in chief of the Indonesian army, he oversaw the death and destruction in East Timor in 1999. He also retains close links to deposed president Soeharto and his family, although he has denied having his election campaign funded by them.

Megawati was widely regarded as incompetent, which she continued to demonstrate in the lead-up to the election. For example, she cited as a highlight of her economic management a Filipino beer company opening a branch in Indonesia. And her calls for Indonesians to vote for the prettiest candidate only earned her derision.

Most foreign governments, including Australia's, are unusual in the openness of their support for Yudhoyono, who is Western-educated, a moderately competent manager, and was seen as a military reformer.

Yet Yudhoyono enjoys the backing of Indonesia's two most radical Islamic parties, the Justice and Welfare Party and the Star and Moon Party, which have links to Islamic militias. And he is also supported by the hawks in the Indonesian military (TNI).

It has also been claimed that Yudhoyono's campaign was bankrolled by a major businessman, himself accused of various illegal practices and who is the key financier of the TNI. That is to say, even though Yudhoyono is touted by international governments as the cleanest, most reformist candidate, this may not quite be the case.

In the war-torn province of Aceh, too, Yudhoyono carries a reputation for overseeing the May 2003 declaration of martial law, in which tens of thousands of troops entered the province ahead of widespread killing, torture and destruction. Reports from North Aceh on election day said soldiers had been rounding up villagers who were reluctant to vote, forcing them to the polling booths and telling them to vote for Yudhoyono.

But regardless of who wins the second round of elections in September, Indonesia's crippling problems will remain. Any future Indonesian president will have to face high and growing unemployment and poverty, a business and investment climate that remains a shambles, active radical Islam and, not least, a cohesive and politically resurgent TNI.

Senior TNI officers may have their favourite candidates but, in the final analysis, they know their political strength lies in institutional unity, and it is this that will underpin any new president.

Dr Damien Kingsbury, who was in Indonesia for the elections, is senor lecturer in international development at Deakin University and author or editor of several books on Indonesian politics.

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