Friday, April 10, 2009
A STRONG showing in national elections presents the President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, with an opportunity to cast off his ultra-cautious approach to politics and policy-making and mark out a reformist agenda.
At stake is an opportunity for Indonesia to break the shackles of the business and civil service elites who still dominate the country, reform its maddeningly inefficient bureaucracy and make decisive inroads into a culture of entrenched corruption.
Indonesia, in many ways, stands as a beacon of regional stability and democracy, but the huge potential of this resource-rich nation of 240 million remains largely untapped.
Its infrastructure is crumbling and most people live barely above subsistence level while the elite enjoys enormous wealth and a strong grip on power.
There are few young politicians emerging and it looks almost certain that the presidential poll in July will be a re-run of 2004, with Dr Yudhoyono facing off against the former president Megawati Soekarnoputri.
The horse-trading among political parties to select candidates for the presidential poll will provide early indications of whether Dr Yudhoyono has been emboldened by his party's performance. On provisional counting, the Democrat Party has garnered about 20 per cent of the national vote, triple the 2004 result, which is likely to be enough for Dr Yudhoyono to stand again as president without a coalition partner.
It an was impressive result because, while Dr Yudhoyono has a high profile and deep coffers to fund an advertising blitz, his young party lacked the cadres and on-the-ground organisation important in garnering support in the far-flung regions and villages.
Golkar, the party of the Vice-President, Jusuf Kalla, and Ms Megawati's Party of Democratic Struggle, each polled between 14 and 15 per cent, while the biggest Islamic-based party, the PKS, scored 8 per cent, according to early counting.
Dr Yudhoyono's personal popularity is sky high, further strengthening his hand.
"He is almost in an unassailable position when it comes to the presidential election," said Greg Fealy, the Indonesia analyst at the Australian National University.
Even so, the Democrat Party is unlikely to go it alone. A failure to annihilate its rival in the election on Thursday means Dr Yudhoyono will be far short of a majority in the national legislature.
This reality, and a measure of political timidity, seem likely to prevent Dr Yudhoyono from naming the highly regarded Finance Minister, Sri Mulyani Indrawati, as his vice-presidential pick.
Dr Yudhoyono and Mr Kalla, a wealthy businessman, have fallen out, complicating the process. And Mr Kalla and Ms Megawati have been talking about forming a coalition to challenge Dr Yudhoyono.
But Maswardi Rauf, from the University of Indonesia, said another Yudhoyono-Kalla duet was still possible.
The other option is for Dr Yudhoyono to align with smaller Islamic parties. There are several ministers from the Islamic parties in his current "rainbow" cabinet. Their presence drove the decision to crack down on an Islamic sect, Ahmadiyah, and introduce a controversial anti-pornography bill.
Still, this week's election showed Indonesians overwhelmingly reject the notion of overt religion dominating politics.
* Tom Allard in Jakarta for SMH