Thursday, December 31, 2009

Indonesian Agenda

Published: 12:01AM BST 21 Oct 2004

Indonesia has come a long way politically since Suharto stepped down in 1998, after more than 30 years of authoritarian rule.

Yesterday in Jakarta, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was sworn in as head of state, having won a landslide victory in the country's first direct presidential election on September 20.

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Democracy's road has not been smooth, but the population of the world's largest Muslim nation has shown no inclination to revert to the military-dominated governments of the past.

Given that the new president is a former general, his success might seem paradoxical. But the framework in which he has to operate has greatly changed since the advent of democracy.

The system of dwi fungsi, under which the army both defended and ran the country, has collapsed. Whereas Suharto could count on a tame parliament dominated by Golkar, Gen Yudhoyono's Parti Demokrat won only 7.45 per cent of the vote in elections to the House of Representatives in April.

After being eclipsed, Golkar is again the largest party, but, given its members' wide support for the new president, he may be able to cobble together a working parliamentary majority.

His main tasks, as outlined in his acceptance speech, are huge. He has promised to tackle corruption in a country deeply addicted to it, hoping thereby to stimulate an economy that, growing at four per cent, is not providing nearly enough job opportunities.

He has vowed to step up the fight against Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the Indonesian terrorist organisation with suspected links to al-Qa'eda, and has hinted at introducing tougher laws to that effect.

JI carried out the Bali bombing of 2002, which killed more than 200 people, among them 88 Australians, and is strongly suspected of being behind attacks in Jakarta on the Marriott Hotel in 2003 and on the Australian Embassy last month.

As well as graft and terrorism, Gen Yudhoyono faces a long-running rebellion in the Sumatran province of Aceh, a lesser insurrection in Irian Jaya and the need to bring the military more fully under civilian control.

Such an agenda is a mighty challenge to the authority of this personable but largely unproven ex-soldier. He has a democratic mandate unprecedented in Indonesia's history. We wish him success.

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