July 8, 2009 / 12:38 PM / 10 years ago

Yudhoyono to get new shot at reforming Indonesia

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, set for a second term, leaves few things to chance. So his encounter with a flying insect this week was one of the few unscripted and comical moments of his campaign.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono speaks to his campaign team at his residence in Cikeas, West Java July 8, 2009. Yudhoyono looked set to win a second term on Wednesday as provisional election results showed there would be no need for a run-off vote, opening the way for a period of quickening reform. REUTERS/Supri

Unlike his U.S. counterpart, Barack Obama, he didn’t kill the bug. But palace officials rushed to the rescue, chasing after the offending insect and brandishing an aerosol as a discomforted Yudhoyono swatted at the air as he stood at the podium and waited to make his televised address.

Still, that Obama moment was probably the only uncomfortable one for the Javanese-born former general recently as opinion polls showed him well ahead of his rivals, Megawati Sukarnoputri and Jusuf Kalla.

Now Yudhoyono, 59, has a chance to pick a cabinet of talented technocrats to build on the modest achievements of his first term — sound economic management and efforts to tackle the corruption that permeates every level of Indonesian life — so that Indonesia can move up a gear in its economic growth.

As a leader, he likes to hear all views. Some see that as a weakness, leading to long, time-wasting meetings, while others consider it a strength, and a refreshing departure from the way Indonesian’s previous presidents ran the country.

Just hours after polling stations closed, provisional counts showed Yudhoyono had won a resounding victory, a mandate that should make him more confident in a second term.

“Yudhoyono will always be more deliberative, but hopefully he will be more willing to take some risks,” said Dewi Fortuna Anwar, a political analyst and once an adviser to former Indonesian President Habibie.

Yudhoyono, who graduated top of class in 1973 at the military academy, spent his army years under the rule of former strongman President Suharto. But while contemporaries suffered from charges of human rights violations, Yudhoyono was widely seen as clean.


He also has an academic side: he obtained a masters in management in the United States, has published several books and is one of the few presidents to hold a doctorate in agricultural economics.

With his keen interest in agricultural policy he has given his support to a couple of far-fetched projects — producing energy from water and engineering a special strain of rice, both of which got scathing write-ups in the press — although neither seemed to do him lasting damage.

Despite his often stiff demeanour, he possesses a common touch that has added to his appeal. Yudhoyono once ditched his official limousine for the back of an escort’s motorcycle to beat a traffic jam, and isn’t averse to crooning his own love ballads and religious songs.

His Democrat Party has about a quarter of the seats after April’s parliamentary election, against only 7.5 percent of the vote in 2004, meaning there should be less need to hand out plum cabinet posts to politicians from coalition partners to ensure support in parliament.

“This is a very strong endorsement for Yudhoyono and will give him greater confidence and boldness to put together his new cabinet and determine policy,” said Greg Fealy, an expert on Indonesian politics at the Australian National University.

He will also have to start thinking about succession planning, since his Democrat Party is built entirely around him and under Indonesian law, a president cannot run for more than two terms.

Already there’s talk that one of his sons, Edhie Baskoro, who won a seat in parliament in April, the first lady Kristiani, and one of her brothers could be groomed as his successor.

Other candidates mooted from outside his family include his presidential spokesman, Andi Mallarengeng, and his finance minister, Sri Mulyani Indrawati.

Additional reporting by Sunanda Creagh and Olivia Rondonuwu; Editing by Sara Webb and Sugita Katyal

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