Sign for stable democracy | The Daily Star
11:00 PM, August 04, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:00 PM, August 04, 2009

Sign for stable democracy

PRESIDENTIAL election was held across the Indonesian archipelago on July 9. The Election Commission announced the result on July 25, declaring current President Dr. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a soft-spoken former general of the Democratic Party, for another five years.
Former president Megawati Sukarnoputri secured 26.8% of the votes, compared to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's 60.8%. Mr. Kalla received 12.4% of the votes.
Megawati boycotted the formal announcement of results from the Election Commission as she believed that there were "unresolved legal issues" over the vote, said her party spokesman Gayus Lumbuun. Vice-President Jusuf Kalla has said that he will challenge the voter list.
Indonesia is an archipelagic country with about 17,000 islands, covering a total area of 1,904,569 square kilometers, divided into 34 provinces. About 176 million people were registered to vote at more than 500,000 polling stations. More than 250,000 police and 20,000 soldiers were mobilised across the archipelago.
Political observers say that all the money the candidates spent during the election campaign has been useful at a time when Indonesia's economy is cooling sharply in the draught from the global downturn. The central bank expects a decline of 25-28% for 2009 as a whole. Most economists expect GDP growth to slow to about 3% from 6.1% in 2008.
During the election campaign, head scarves (known as jilbab in Indonesia) for women had become an issue. This time the target of a religion-based smear campaign was Herawati, the wife of his vice-presidential candidate, Dr. Boediono, an Australian-educated economist, a former governor of Indonesia's central bank and considered clean and highly competent.
And, improbably enough, the whole affair was started by one of the parties allied with the president's coalition. The Islamic party PKS, or Prosperous Justice Party, claimed that its conservative members would be reluctant to vote for the SBY-Boediono ticket because their wives rarely wore the jilbab in public. Innuendo and rumours soon kicked in.
But Herawati Boediono promptly put her religion at the disposal of politics. When the story hit the headlines, Herawati made a well-publicised visit to a mosque, wearing the headscarf and offering to wear it more often if the campaign required.
Despite all the fears about Indonesia post-Soeharto, it is turning out to be a democratic success story. "In the immediate aftermath of the fall of Soeharto, with the collapse of central authority, various actors tried to take as much as they could through violence," explains Ed Aspinall of the Australian National University. Some thought Indonesia was disintegrating. But nothing like that happened. Rather it has become a model for Asean countries.
The president's largely successful reform is the radical decentralisation that has seen a big chunk of public-sector spending and power devolved to local levels. The reformasi has also introduced a new sense of accountability, which has done a bit to rein in the still rampant corruption. So has the capture of some big fish. They include the father of President Yudhoyono's daughter-in-law, one of several corruption suspects at the central bank, and so many lawmakers that a judge asked if every law discussed there needed to be lubricated with cash
The president has proved to be a steady, moderate and effective ruler. His economic decisions have been sensible and the country is proving to be one of the more resilient in the global recession. His command over the army has been firm and effective. And his welfare policies, especially the cash handouts to the poorest as part of an economic stimulus plan, have been much appreciated.
In the latest parliamentary elections in April, the Islamic parties' share of the votes fell from 21 percent to 16. However, the militant group Jemaah Islamiah, (JI), the al-Qaeda affiliate responsible for the 2002 Bali bombing, which wants to create an Islamic state across parts of Southeast Asia, was also blamed for a string of attacks until 2005.
On July 30, BBC reported that fugitive terrorist Noordin Mohammed Top had claimed responsibility for the twin hotel bombings in Jakarta on July 17, justifying the mass murders as an attack on American interests and labelling the Manchester United football team that was due to book into one of the hotels as "crusaders."
According to police, the casualties of the bombing included citizens of Indonesia, the United States, Australia, South Korea, the Netherlands, Italy, Britain, Canada, Norway, Japan and India.
A visibly upset Yudhoyono told a news conference that the bombings were the act of a terrorist group bent on damaging the country. Despite the bomb blasts, the Indonesian president is expected to promote the country's status as an international standard bearer of democracy and moderate Islam.

Barrister Harun ur Rashid is a former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

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