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Mr Popularity survives a tough year JAKARTA - On Thursday, one year after the inauguration of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a 200-metre mural was erected facing Jakarta's main roundabout. The mural was in front of the deserted Hotel Indonesia where a dissident was bundled out of a window in the film The Year of Living Dangerously.

This series of painted snapshots presented a far happier picture of Dr Yudhoyono's year of "serving the people", a month-by-month display of him greeting leaders, giving speeches, observing parades and being feted by an adoring public.

Missing were the key events that have marked Indonesia's first directly elected President's baptism of fire: the tsunami that devastated Aceh, a second terrorist assault on Bali, fears of a bird flu pandemic, corruption scandals and controversy over the arsenic-laced orange juice murder of a renowned human rights activist on a Garuda airlines flight.

Despite his annus horribilus, Dr Yudhoyono has retained most of the popularity that swept him to power without the support of an established party. Grand promises of ending corruption and capturing leading terrorists in his first 100 days came to nought, but even blatantly breaking a promise by doubling fuel prices failed to ignite public outrage.

This week the President's spokesmen and key advisers, Dino Pati Djalal and Andi Mallarangeng, met foreign correspondents to spin their views of the year gone. It had been tremendously difficult, conceded Dr Djalal.

The pair reeled off a list of achievements, the beginnings of a fundamental change within the Indonesian state, a Government in touch with the people, committed to bureaucratic and economic reform and tackling the endemic corruption bedevilling the nation. On his election, Dr Yudhoyono warned Indonesia would "be destroyed if we do not stop the growth of corruption. There needs to be some shock therapy so that the people know that this Government is serious about corruption."

Unlike many colleagues, Dr Yudhoyono is perceived as clean, setting an example with a Government seen as free of "KKN" (the initials of corruption, cronyism and nepotism, according to Dr Djalal. The head of Indonesia's independent anti-corruption commission, Taufiequrachman Ruki, appears unconvinced, pointing out that Indonesia still ranks near the bottom of worldwide corruption indexes.

"The legislation and law enforcement conditions are still in a shambles," Mr Ruki said. The head of the nation's highest court, Supreme Court Chief Justice Bagir Manan, is under investigation after the arrests of five court clerks and a lawyer who were allegedly trying to bribe him with $700,000. The money allegedly came from former president Soeharto's half-brother, Probosutedjo, attempting to escape charges of embezzling $20 million of reforestation funds.

At the ground level, and even below it, corruption remains a fact of life for most Indonesians. One Jakarta resident this week complained he had to pay $70 for digging his father's grave and $40 to lease the plot despite a supposedly free, government-funded burial system.

Ordinary Indonesians appreciate the scale of the problems, and after an almost terminally indecisive predecessor, Megawati Soekarnoputri, Dr Yudhoyono has won points for action in a crisis. A day after the Boxing Day tsunami, which killed an estimated 150,000 in Aceh, he rushed to the region, opening up the closed province from military rule to allow in foreign troops, aid workers and the media.

As with many initiatives, the initial promise has bogged down amid a creaking bureaucracy. Ten months on, even normally diplomatic United Nations officials are frustrated that survivors are still living in squalid tent camps, with most of the $7 billion of relief funds raised across the world unspent. Dr Yudhoyono did use the impetus of the tragedy to forge a peace deal with Aceh's secessionist rebels, apparently ending a three-decade-long conflict, with the adroit assistance of Vice-President Josef Kalla.

Increasingly, many other cabinet members appear to lack the skills to forge the fundamental change Dr Yudhoyono is demanding. Reshuffle calls are growing, with criticism of an economic team that totally miscalculated the devastating impact of escalating oil prices.

This month's bombings in Bali presented a deadly reminder of the terrorist threat Dr Yudhoyono is yet to fully confront. Ducking a public debate on the danger posed by Jemaah Islamiah and reluctant to take on Islamic fundamentalists, he is yet to gamble his still-considerable political capital on the issue. Dr Djalal predicts more action, and more change, in the next 12 months.

Related blog entries (category 'Politics') Related blog entries (category 'Politics'):
20 October 2005 · SBY in control, but tougher challenges ahead
07 October 2005 · SBY still popular despite a year of tough decisions
26 September 2005 · Yudhoyono likely to survive fuel price rise protest
06 May 2005 · Susilo puts the squeeze on corruption

Posted in Politics @ 22 October 2005 10:32 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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