Saturday, April 27, 2013

Indonesia's Failed President

SUSILO BAMBANG YUDHOYONO, the president of Indonesia, was in Singapore on Monday for the regular Singapore-Indonesia “leaders’ retreat”, a chance for a more relaxed exchange of views between the premiers of the biggest South-East Asian country and one of the smallest. Before flying off for his first visit to the new Myanmar on April 23rd, however, he stepped into the downtown offices of Thomson-Reuters to answer questions from a gathering of bankers, analysts and financial hacks. The result was quite revealing.

Coming towards the end of his second (and last) term in office, SBY, as he is known to his friends as well as the public at large, was engaging and confident. No less than what you would expect from the president of a country that is currently enjoying an enviable economic boom.

But the former general also came across as a bit bland and too eager to please, qualities that may have endeared him to many an Indonesian voter, but have probably ill-served him as the man who set out many years ago to clean up Indonesian politics and eradicate its endemic corruption. High hopes from his early years of office have long since been dashed. By trying to bring as many men and women of different political hues into his “big-tent” coalition governments he has in effect diluted the government’s clarity of purpose and achieved much less than he might have done.

And on April 23rd he was still at it, insisting that “my principle is to promote all co-operation”, and that he was an “open leader”, ready to listen to everyone. If ever a man really did need a “coalition of the willing”, rather than just any old coalition, it was SBY. But it’s all too late now; his time is up and political discussion in Indonesia has turned to who might succeed him after elections next year.

Perhaps aware of this—of his time drawing to a close—SBY may have let his real feelings show on the question of corruption. Pressed on the subject, he confessed to being “frustrated” on this issue, admitting that he had thought it was all going to be “much easier” to tackle fraud and graft when he started out. His argument, that there only seems to be more corruption in the country now because the police and other agencies have got so much better at uncovering it, sounded half-hearted. SBY has obviously been riled by the several members of his own party and government who have been charged with corruption (and, in some cases, convicted). His voice rising just a little, he said he was “angry” and “annoyed” by this.

He pledged that his “government will be in the frontline in the battle” against corruption, but I think he knew already that it’s now a battle for his successors. Looking to his legacy, he too can see that he will not be remembered as the man who cleaned up Indonesia. The Economist

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