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Two years of SBY: Bouquet for Aceh, brickbat for economy JAKARTA - As he heads into his third year as Indonesia's president on Friday, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono enjoys respectable popularity, but is struggling to ignite Southeast Asia's largest economy, analysts say. The 57-year-old former general, who was nominated for a Nobel peace prize for overseeing a peace pact with separatist rebels in Aceh, has crafted a respected image abroad, but at home the battles he faces are more complex.

"SBY" was the nation's first directly-elected head of state, taking power on October 20, 2004 amid widespread optimism that he would battle Indonesia's infamous corruption and breathe change into the administration. Two years later, presidential spokesman Andi Mallarangeng argues that the world's fourth most populous nation is "on the right track", despite of a series of catastrophes Yudhoyono has had to grapple with since his election.

Two tsunamis, two major earthquakes, a terror attack and the rapid spread of bird flu across the archipelago have conspired to put the brakes on the president's capacity to act on more mundane but pressing domestic issues. Mallarangeng points to the "stabilization" of the two formerly restive extremes of Indonesia -- Aceh and Papua, where the president has pushed for a decentralisation law to be implemented -- and a recent poll which found that just over two-thirds of Indonesians are "satisfied" with Yudhoyono.

To his credit, the president slashed high fuel subsidies a year ago and fears that the move may have stimulated unrest were proved unfounded. Indonesia has repaid its IMF debt, carried out an effective anti-terrorism campaign and launched a crackdown, if limited in its impact so far, on corruption.

On the international front, Jakarta has repaired its military ties with Washington and played host to a series of Western leaders keen to promote amicable ties with the world's most populous Muslim nation. US President George W. Bush himself is expected to visit next month. Indonesia has just been elected to the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member, and will send a peacekeeping contingent to Lebanon.

Black marks

Two black marks however have emerged in recent weeks that have the potential to sully Yudhoyono's reputation on the global stage. In a shock move, the Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a pilot for murdering one of the country's most respected human rights activists. And three Christians convicted of violence against Muslims in cases criticised by activists for being unfair were executed despite a papal plea for clemency.

On the domestic front, the economy remains far from rosy despite the president's overhaul of his economic team last December. With nearly 40 percent of the labour force unemployed or underemployed, and 39 million people in a population of some 220 million estimated to be living in poverty, Indonesia is lagging behind. Its economic growth rate of just under six percent is considered too low, with inflation expected to clock in as high as eight percent in 2006.

"We have all these international business communities talking to us, (telling us) very good things about democratization, moderate Muslims, about this and that," said Sofyan Wanandi from the Indonesian Employers Association. "But in the end they are going to China, they are going to Vietnam -- not to Indonesia to invest." Proposed tax and labour law reforms have been put on ice, with the government showing signs of disunion, and the deplorable state of infrastructure has also discouraged development.

"The bureaucrats are not spending the money because they think it's not like in the old days where money could be corrupt" and used to line their own pockets, Gadis Arivia, a feminist academic at the University of Indonesia, was quoted by AFP as saying. Some argue that Yudhoyono is playing it safer as his term progresses. "Like a pro tennis player, he becomes more conservative as he wins more points," political analyst Wimar Witoelar wrote in the Jakarta Post this week.

"The problem is, the points he scores are mainly for himself rather than for the nation." Yudhoyono has three years left to prove his worth to Indonesian voters before they head to the polls again.



Posted in Politics @ 29 October 2006 02:53 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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