September 19, 2004


Democracy thrives in largest Muslim state: Monday's vote is for the first president directly elected by the people of Indonesia. (Tom McCawley, 9/20/04, CS Monitor)

Some 154 million Indonesians are expected to cast ballots Monday in a second-round poll in the first direct presidential elections in the country's 59-year history. This vote, say analysts, is part of a maturation of the country's democracy, which was born in 1998 after the end of a 32-year dictatorship. The past six years have seen a fitful transition in which the three presidents were chosen by an elite body of legislators.

In the world's most populous Muslim nation, Yudhoyono is a practicing Muslim who was educated in a traditional pesantren, or Muslim boarding school.

That, says Ulil Abshar Abdalla, a prominent liberal Islamic scholar, is part of his appeal: a clean image, at a time when corruption is seen as a major problem. "The voters' reasoning was clear. They opted for Susilo for his personal image," Mr. Ulil says.

Still, Yudhoyono says he favors a secular approach to public affairs.

Yudhoyono's rise has been meteoric, so much so that few analysts expected his fledgling Democratic Party to win 10-percent of the seats in the April's parliamentary elections. Yudhoyono finished first with 34 percent of the vote in the first round of the elections in July. But the margin was not wide enough for an outright victory, giving Megawati a second chance to defend her job.

The telegenic Yudhoyono has also proved popular with foreign governments, including the US. As senior security minister, Yudhoyono won applause for swift action in October 2002 after terrorist attacks in Bali carried out by members of the Jemaah Islamiyah, a militant group linked to Al Qaeda.

"He has a clear vision that Megawati never had," says Sofjan Djalil, a senior economic adviser to Yudhoyono.

Still, if he wins Monday, Yudhoyono will quickly face the problems that bested his predecessor Megawati. Polls show voters are dissatisfied with an Indonesian economy still shaking off the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis. Jakarta has also transferred much political power to outer regions in the 17,000-island archipelago, in an ambitious decentralization program. Separatist tensions still flare in two provinces, Aceh and Papua. On Sept. 9, a bomb attack on the Australian Embassy here was a strong reminder that terrorist cells are still active.

It's not really a country and will benefit by devolving into a number of independent states, but they appear to hasve crossed the all important threshold where folks require government to be representative in order to be legitimate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 19, 2004 7:01 PM

I agree with both of the ideas in your editorial, particularly the last.

However, concerning that, since you've said that you favor rule by kings, why is it that requiring the gov't to be representative is "all important" to legitimacy ?

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at September 20, 2004 3:11 AM

There's no reason a monarchy can't be representative. Britain's was.

Posted by: oj at September 20, 2004 7:24 AM
« BIG RED (via Fred Jacobsen): | Main | VIBRATING LIKE A TUNING FORK: »