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Good news from Indonesia: SBY picks his running mate

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14 May 2009 14:47

Peter McCawley is a Visiting Fellow at the Indonesia Project, ANU, and former Dean of the ADB Institute, Tokyo. 

The key news from Indonesia in the last 24 hours is that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) has reportedly chosen Dr Boediono to be his running mate in the presidential elections due to be held in July. Rumours have been swirling for the last week about the possibility that SBY would choose Boediono, and the choice now seems to be firm. 

This is good news for Indonesia, good news for Southeast Asia and good news for Australia. Assuming President SBY is re-elected later this year (which looks highly likely), Boediono will become vice president and a key decision-maker in Indonesia for the period 2009-2014.

So why is SBY's choice of Boediono as his running mate such good news? One reason is that the choice sends a strong signal that SBY intends to give high priority to competence and honesty at the very top of the Indonesian Government. 

Boediono is one of Indonesia's best known and most highly regarded economic technocrats. He studied in Australia (at the universities of West Australia and Monash) for his undergraduate and Masters degrees in economics. He subsequently graduated with a PhD in economics from the top-quality Wharton School at Pennsylvania University in the US in the late 1970s. 

Since then, he has continued to teach economics at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, has written widely on Indonesian economic issues, and held a string of influential policy positions in successive Indonesian governments. And his personal lifestyle has always been modest. In close on 40 years in public life in Indonesia, there has never been the slightest whiff of inappropriate behaviour surrounding his name.

A second reason SBY's choice is good news is that it is a decisive, self-confident move from the President. It suggests SBY himself feels in a very strong position, and that he intends to build on this strength to bolster good policies during his second term.

SBY, it was widely realised, faced a key choice in selecting his running mate. For the past five years, SBY has had to continually keep an eye open on his erratic and ambitious Vice President, Jusuf Kalla. SBY has obviously found the process difficult on occasions. This time, SBY had the choice of nominating either a running mate with strong political credentials, or a non-political technocrat who would provide him with competent and unwavering support. The political gossip mills in Jakarta have been hotly debating which way SBY would jump ever since the President's Democrat Party emerged from the Indonesian parliamentary elections last month in a surprisingly strong position.

The national leadership position is now firming up quite quickly in Indonesia. Doubtless surprises could still occur, and we don't know how much authority SBY will give to his new Vice President. But the way things are shaping up suggests SBY will win the presidential elections later this year convincingly, and that he will be a position to provide strong leadership to Indonesia through to 2014. 

The selection of Boediono will certainly bolster President SBY in this position. After a long decade of difficulties following the regional economic crisis of 1997-98, Indonesia is once again emerging with increasing confidence as the main regional player in Southeast Asia.

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