Friday, October 17, 2014

Indonesian President Yudhoyono's Legacy: The Great Democratic Leader Who Became a Follower

Just a month ago, on the cusp of the end of his long term as Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono trended globally for several days on his beloved social media platform, Twitter.

"Shame on you SBY. The big liar!!! Thanks for 10 years wasting time," wrote @Skazie; "Dear Mr. President@SBYudhoyono thanks for showing us the real you. Just so that u know, we are #ShamedByYou," said@MikhaelaChan among tens of thousands of others.

The outrage was over SBY's Democratic Party clearing the parliamentary path for new laws that eliminated direct elections for all three lower levels of government in Indonesia.

After 10 years in power, SBY is being booed off stage. Talk to senior Indonesians in the twilight of Yudhoyono's presidency and they express scathing disappointment.

"He eliminated the will of the president from the fabric of power ... there was no alpha male in the government," Wimar Witoelar, a former spokesman for the fourth Indonesian president, Abdurrahman Wahid, told Fairfax Media.

"He's always afraid — he only wants to be praised for what he's doing," said Sofjan Wanandi, the chairman of the Employers' Association of Indonesia. "Everyone surrounding him have become yes men. Nobody wants to tell him the truth."

"He's susceptible to the wishes and demands of some of the most sleazy and corrupt members of his coalition," said a one-time cabinet minister.

This response was unthinkable in 2004 when Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, "the Thinking General," became Indonesia's first popularly elected president with a 61 per cent majority and huge optimism for the future. Still less in 2009, when he extended his mandate even further.

Even now his staunchest critics are not entirely negative. Ask if, in retrospect, they would have voted for any other candidate in either election, and most say no: "It's a mediocre record, but it's not an appalling one," Wimar says.

Crucial to understanding Yudhoyono's mixed legacy is the sharp distinction between his first term and his second.

In 2004, there was no certainty that Indonesia's democracy would even survive its birth. Dictator Suharto's ouster in 1998 had unleashed unfamiliar freedoms which, in the early chaotic days, saw East Timor win its independence and violent separatist or sectarian conflicts unleashed in Aceh and Maluku. Islamic radicalism was on the rise, while the long campaign for independence in West Papua simmered on. In 1999, the most popular candidate, Megawati Sukarnoputri, had been denied the presidency only for her vanquisher, Wahid, to be impeached two years later. A tumultuous period of constitutional reform had thrown into question the whole bold concept of a single Indonesian state.

But Yudhoyono's election in 2004 with 33 per cent of the vote in the first round, and 61 per cent in the run-off against Megawati, proved immediately reassuring.

"He toned down the acrimony in public; he made people feel good," Wimar says.

Perhaps Yudhoyono's greatest achievement, then, is to have consolidated Indonesia's democracy. The success and lack of violence of the 2014 presidential poll in which two populist candidates ran robust campaigns - and in the case of loser Prabowo Subianto, a testing post-campaign challenge - shows how deeply Indonesia's democratic habits took root under Yudhoyono.

His first term was marked by good luck and some good management. Driven by a commodity boom, the economy grew quickly - accelerating to 6.3 per cent in 2007 - and poverty fell, albeit slowly.

The Boxing Day tsunami just months after he was inaugurated was devastating, but Indonesia rebuilt quickly with international help. Better still, his administration seized the opportunity to negotiate an end to the bloody, 20-year separatist battle with Free Aceh Movement insurgents, GAM. A peace agreement was signed in Helsinki in 2005.

He engaged his former foes in East Timor, courting and mollifying its leaders, and forged a strong anti-terrorism police force. He consolidated the power of the anti-corruption commission, KPK, even as it cut a swath through the Jakarta elite — even, in 2008, arresting Bank Indonesia's former deputy governor, Aulia Pohan, the father of Yudhoyono's daughter-in-law.

"He never spoke for the KPK and never against it, even when it was eviscerating his cabinet and his party," a former minister tells Fairfax Media.

Yudhoyono burnished his image and performance in the international community, where he was regarded as a democrat and reformer. He travelled widely, selling the image of Indonesia to the world. Through their joint work against terrorism after the Bali bombings, he and Australian prime minister John Howard forged close ties. The Australian foreign policy establishment regards him as one of the best friends Australia had in the world.

"That was SBY at his best," says retired Lieutenant-General Agus Widjojo, a former comrade of Yudhoyono's and a military reformer.

But it was in this, his favoured arena, that Australia first glimpsed his hypersensitivity. In 2006 he withdrew his ambassador to Canberra for three months over Australia's decision to grant refugee status to 42 activists who'd escaped West Papua.

The move enlivened the unkillable Indonesian delusion that Australia wants an independent West Papua, and it fed widespread anti-Australian feeling. Yudhoyono simply bowed to the mob.

Domestically, Yudhoyono, though himself soft, had hard men around him. The hardest was vice-president Jusuf Kalla, known as JK, from the Golkar party (who has now taken a role as Joko Widodo's deputy).

Some analysts now credit JK with some of the first administration's biggest successes, including the Aceh peace deal: "There are times that JK took risks to come to a decision, which, maybe if that had gone to the president, wouldn't have been agreed upon," Agus says.

But Kalla's strength and power ruffled the president's feathers and threatened him.

"JK was too strong ... his body charge was too hard against SBY," Agus says. Importantly, Yudhoyono's wife, Kristiani Yudhoyono, known as Ani, "always disliked Kalla for his direct style", according to a 2009 US embassy cable released on Wikileaks, and "Ani is very influential, making many of Yudhoyono's decisions".

When it came to the 2009 election, Yudhoyono spurned Kalla and found someone less confronting, the technocrat and academic, Boediono, as a running mate. That campaign was virtually the last that Indonesians saw of their new vice-president.

SBY's appeal, though, was unassailable. He won against all comers in 2009 with a crushing 61 per cent in the first round, avoiding the need for a run-off. He enjoyed a 75 per cent personal approval rating.

Starting in October 2009, his second term was Yudhoyono's alone to succeed or fail. According to ANU academic Greg Fealy, who has made a study of the Yudhoyono years, it was a turning point.

"The election itself had a powerful effect on his psychology. He felt it had elevated him to a unique place in history," Fealy says. Suddenly, a lifelong desire, forged by an unhappy childhood, to "become someone" was realised, and "a deep and cosseting self-satisfaction" overtook him.

"Stability" became a virtual obsession.

"The most liberal of democracies prioritise stability for their country so that their lives may be tranquil and their economy functioning," Yudhoyono opined recently.

To ensure his own tranquillity, SBY built a sprawling multi-party parliamentary coalition by granting ministries to people from across the political spectrum, no matter how venal or incompetent. He then exercised little, if any, authority over them. He commissioned opinion polls for virtually every decision, according to Fealy, becoming "a follower rather than a leader".

He employed staff whose job it was to seek out international honours for him to be awarded.

The hard men were still there, but not all had the national interest at heart. Businessman and minister Aburizal Bakrie, for example, kept his Golkar Party in line, but in 2010 forced the resignation of the talented and reformist finance minister, Sri Mulyani Indrawati, who was trying to make Bakrie pay his companies' substantial back taxes.

"I was very disappointed in SBY,"Wimar says. "It exemplified his attitude that would rather keep the peace in the coalition than stick his neck out. He is more loyal to his enemy than to his friends."

Sri Mulyani left the country to be a highly regarded managing director of the World Bank.

Later, when a drilling operation of Bakrie's caused the world's biggest mud volcano to swamp villages in East Java, Yudhoyono paid much of the tab from the public purse.

Driven by the commodity boom, the economy kept growing at or slightly above 5 per cent, Indonesia became part of the G20 and was given an investment grade rating in 2012. Of all this, Yudhoyono said recently: "Indonesia has become one of the key players in the global economy".

A former minister, though, says he painted a more realistic picture when talking to investors: "We have lots of volcano eruptions, clashes, bomb explosions; you take the risk. We are a BBB minus country, you get what you pay for. We're quite corrupt," he recalls saying.

It became increasingly obvious that Indonesia should have been growing faster and distributing the wealth better.

"The economy is holding up, but only just" said ANU Indonesia expert Hal Hill this year, because of "policy drift ... a polite word for inaction".

Deplorable and degrading infrastructure - both social and economic - constrained growth. Manufacturing companies are desperate to invest in Indonesia's low labour-cost environment, and the country needs their money, but power demand now exceeds supply and the roads, particularly around Jakarta and its port, have become clogged. Only 4 per cent of GDP was spent during SBY's tenure to improve infrastructure.

Corruption, low pay and incompetence renders the Indonesian justice system unworthy of the name, and its bureaucracy virtually impenetrable. Only about 70 per cent of the police and military budgets are covered by the state, the rest comes from the (sometimes criminal) enterprises they run. Between 30 and 40 per cent of the economy remains under the control of state-owned enterprises, and there has been no move to privatise or reform them. Indonesia spends a lower proportion of its economy on health than sub-Saharan Africa; 20 per cent of the national budget is mandated to go into education, but performance is declining; 43 per cent of the population earns less than $2 per day and the Gini coefficient, which measures inequality, is rising fast. The rich take a growing proportion of the spoils generated by digging up or cutting down national resources, then they fly to Singapore to see the doctor.

Yudhoyono said little or nothing as religious minorities were being persecuted and sometimes killed. Yet last year he flew to New York to accept a global religious tolerance award.

After eight years of solemn pledges at global confabs to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 41 per cent, Indonesia's tropical deforestation rate (and the approaching extinction of unique species) kept increasing and, in 2011, overtook Brazil's to become the world's worst.

He has visited his easternmost territory of West Papua just three times in a decade, and never engaged deeply with the issues of poverty and disenfranchisement that fuel separatism.

Even in international relations, SBY's strongest suit, there are questions about what he's actually achieved. The 2006 withdrawal of the ambassador from Australia was followed by the same move in 2013 over the spying issue - this time the envoy stayed home for six months.

"I think it's very irresponsible for SBY to have done it twice," says former intelligence analyst Ken Ward. "It means if a future president takes offence, he's likely to go one step further ... He's raised the bar high for his successors."

His failure to stop local elections being abolished has most raised the ire of local activists, but Yudhoyono's other parting shot will leave at least as damaging a legacy.

Successor Joko Widodo asked him in August to use his final weeks in office to cut the country's budget-crippling fuel subsidy. It would have allowed the newcomer more fiscal room to manoeuvre, and as importantly, saved him from wasting early political capital on a deeply unpopular petrol price rise.

Yudhoyono, who had nothing to lose but some of his remaining popularity, refused.

"He told me, 'Now is not the right time,'" Jokowi reported after their meeting.

Ten years in power and it was still not the right time for SBY to make a stand.


Consolidated democracy 5.7 per cent average economic growth Peace and rebuilding of Aceh after tsunami Consolidated anti-corruption commission, even as it was tearing apart his own party Strong anti-terrorism record Credible figure on global stage Good, if rocky, relationship with Australia Began bureaucratic, military, police reform Press freedom Failures

Indecisiveness, sense of national drift Little infrastructure spending Little attempt to fix national budget by winding back wasteful fuel subsidies Bureaucratic, military, police, judicial reform stalled Poor tax collection Health, education outcomes poor Parliament and other institutions corrupt Weak law enforcement Environment/deforestation (big talk, no action) Insufficient attention to West Papua Growing religious intolerance (little law enforcement) Human rights: proposed truth and reconciliation commissions, apologies, but never followed up Allowed passage of anti-democratic laws last month. By Michael Bachelard, Indonesia correspondent for Fairfax Media


  1. Yudhoyono's decade of missed opportunities
    After previous administrations subdued ethnic conflicts and the worst of the terrorist threat in the early 2000s, simply maintaining stability and relative economic prosperity over the next decade was never going to be enough for a country with Indonesia's vast potential.
    Other danger signs were there. Fluctuating oil prices and declining domestic production meant fuel subsidies would become an even heavier burden, while serious shortcomings in education and infrastructure were clear obstacles to future economic growth.
    Measured against those parameters, Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ends his two-term presidency far short of the goals he should have set himself with two successive electoral mandates any world leader would treasure.
    Previously, it would have been tempting to say he leaves the glass half-full.
    After all, as economist Hal Hill points out, in an age when grand rhetoric often substitutes for good policy, how many other middle-income states stack up as well as Indonesia?

  2. Indonesia Bids Farewell to SBY and His Years of Wasted Opportunities
    Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will end his 10-year presidency in a matter of days.
    More could have been done during Yudhoyono’s reign. While it may not be reasonable to expect the president to fulfil all his promises, such as demanding Indonesia maintain a constant 7 percent economic growth, in many cases Yudhoyono simply messed up due to his inability to act decisively.
    It is a shame that in the end this administration will be remembered as one of years of wasted opportunities. Yudhoyono had so much power and public support — more than his successor Joko Widodo has now. He was actually in a position to adopt unpopular but much-needed policies. Yet he fumbled due to his unwillingness to break some eggs.
    Yohanes Sulaiman is a lecturer in international relations and political science at the Indonesian Defense University.