Indonesia - Presidential Election: The Thinking General

Indonesia’s first direct-vote presidential elections look almost certain to deliver victory for the reformist former General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. With a clear lead over current President Megawati Sukarnoputri in the July first round, SBY, as he is known to his supporters, is on course to become Indonesia’s sixth president. Dubbed the thinking general, he has staked his presidential bid on a tough anti-corruption campaign, a new approach to the separatist wars in Aceh and West Papua, and thoroughgoing reform of the bureaucracy. Such promises have been heard aplenty in the turbulent years since the fall of Suharto’s New Order in May 1998, but this time there might just be the chance for change.

The World Today Updated 19 October 2020 Published 1 August 2004 4 minute READ

Peter Carey

Laithwaite Fellow and Tutor in Modern History, Trinity College, Oxford

When the Indonesian supreme legislative body meets in special session this October, it will approve a political revolution. For the first time since the country’s independence in 1945, the republic will have a directly elected president. Such a firm democratic mandate will not only enhance the position of the new incumbent, but could make bolder policy initiatives possible since the reformist momentum of the post-Suharto era seems to have run its course.

None of the post-Suharto presidents, Bachruddin Jusuf Habibie (1998-99), Aburrachman Wahid (1999-2001) and Megawati Sukarnoputri (2001-4), have had the capacity to carry through the necessary political reforms. Limited in their administrative competence, all three have been civilians with little standing with the powerful military.

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