Subject: JG/The Thinker: Let the Games Begin (by veteran journalist Taufik Darusman)

The Jakarta Globe

May 25, 2009

The Thinker: Let the Games Begin

by Taufik Darusman

The past week saw President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his running mate, former central bank Governor Boediono, on the defensive as they scrambled to fend off their rivals’ accusations that they were ardent followers of neo-liberalism.

It didn’t really matter whether the majority of voters knew what the term meant; the way the accusation was deftly made left the public perceiving the duo as evil-doers unworthy of holding the nation’s highest offices.

Golkar Party presidential hopeful Jusuf Kalla fired the first salvo, citing Boediono’s refusal while coordinating minister for the economy to give the go-ahead for a power project and Jakarta’s monorail plan as prime examples of the Australian-trained economist’s true leanings.

Ever the savvy campaigner, Vice President Kalla repeated the “Boediono the neo-liberalist” mantra for maximum impact and got away with it. Kalla’s allies joined in the fray and, for good measure, dubbed Boediono “an IMF and World Bank lackey.”

Kalla, however, didn’t give the public the complete story, as the two infrastructure projects actually involved private enterprises seeking foreign loans with a government guarantee.

Understandably, Boediono balked at the idea, arguing that the laws clearly stipulate a project is either state or private funded. He reminded Kalla that the days of the New Order regime, when private projects were funded by foreign loans guaranteed by the state, were a thing of the past.

We can be sure of seeing the presidential campaign heat up in ways that Indonesians have never experienced before

Does Boediono’s strict by-the-book approach entitle the likes of Kalla to call him a neo-liberalist? Of course not, but the accusations left Boediono having to make rebuttals instead of promoting his views on the economy in ways that would strengthen Yudhoyono’s chances on July 8.

Boediono has made it clear that he’s no neo-liberal, much less the International Monetary Fund or World Bank’s man in Indonesia. He may be conservative and unimaginative to the extent that he adheres to time-honored economic principles, but few of his students now occupying key positions fault him for that.

Indeed, being an economist who believes less government is better and who extols the virtues of a free market doesn’t make him a neo-liberal, any more than a politician who believes in a civilian government finds the military reprehensible.

The pre-presidential campaign period has now taken an even nastier tone. The nation had hardly finished mourning the 101 people who died in the crash of an Air Force Hercules C-130 last week when Kalla, again, went on the offensive.

Now, here’s a chess player who dearly holds that a good offense is the best defense. Citing Defense Ministry budget cuts as the cause of the crash, Kalla blamed the government, which he is still part of as vice president, for undermining the country’s military hardware.

Even by his standards, Kalla was completely off the mark this time. First, the cause of the accident has yet to be determined — whether it was due to human error, technical reasons or weather conditions. In any case, the budget cuts he mentioned didn’t include operations and maintenance costs for existing equipment.

Also, whether the antiquated C-130s — once used for the government’s transmigration program, flying people from overpopulated Java to the outer islands — form part of the country’s weapons systems is highly debatable.

Curiously, Kalla found an ally in two-star Army Gen. Tono Suratman, the military commander of South Sumatra, who somehow found time to support Kalla’s contention that defense budget cuts were partly to blame for the tragedy.

Now, why would an Army officer comment on Air Force matters, never mind the dubious reasons behind the decision of certain media outlets to give his opinion coverage?

It turns out that this is the same Tono Suratman who was one of the senior military officers on the ground during the bloody post-East Timor referendum violence. His superior at the time was none other than Wiranto, then a four-star general and commander of the Armed Forces, who is now Kalla’s running mate.

Tono and other senior officers were brought to trial for their alleged involvement in the melee but were later acquitted due to military pressure, according to insiders.

It’s difficult to prove if Tono’s comments were part of a concerted effort by rivals to blame Yudhoyono for policies that may or may not have led to the Hercules crash.

What is increasingly apparent is that we can be sure of seeing the presidential campaign heat up in ways that Indonesians have never experienced before.

Taufik Darusman is a veteran Jakarta-based journalist.

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