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A victory for Indonesia

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COMMENTS

9 July 2009 12:00

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

An astonishing thing has just happened in Indonesia. Early informal results point to a sweeping victory for the incumbent president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) in yesterday's election. And what is astonishing is not only that the presidential election has gone so smoothly, but that the Indonesian electorate has voted so decisively in favour of sound government. 

Exit polls indicate that SBY and his vice-presidential running mate Boediono gathered in a stunning 60 percent of the vote. Some pre-election surveys had suggested that the SBY-Boediono team might win by a large margin, but few observers expected it would be as large as this.

The strongest challenge to SBY came from the Megawati-Prabowo team, which managed to win only 25 percent of the vote. The Jusuf Kalla-Wiranto team came a distant third with around 15 percent of the total. President SBY has therefore gathered in half as much again as the total votes won by his two challengers combined. 

Whatever organisational problems there may have been during the election campaign – and there were quite a few reports of administrative hiccups – there can be no doubt at all that the Indonesian electorate wants SBY in charge for another five years.

Now that we have the result, we can draw three main conclusions. They are all very encouraging.

First, the result is an enormous step forward in strengthening the institutions of good governance in Indonesia. It is over 60 years since independence was declared in Indonesia in 1945. For the whole of that long period, political leaders in Indonesia have been searching for ways to establish the strong institutions needed to ensure the legitimacy of the presidency. Yesterday's election was the first time in Indonesian history that a sitting president has stood and been reelected in a fair and convincing way. 

Second, the result gives SBY a very strong mandate to press on with programs of sensible reform. During his first five years in office, SBY has had mixed success in promoting social and economic reform. On balance, the record has certainly been good but he has often been criticised for being too cautious. Now that the Indonesian electorate has given him such clear support, he is in a much stronger position to promote further reform. We will have to see if he does so. Certainly Boediono, who is a highly-skilled economist with many years of experience in the top echelons of government, can be relied upon to give him total support in implementing reform programs.

Finally, SBY and Boediono may be characterised as 'extreme moderates' in international affairs. The chances of Indonesia embarking on adventurist policies in Southeast Asia while SBY and Boediono are in charge are approximately zero. The election results in Indonesia yesterday therefore greatly strengthen the outlook for stability in the region during the next five years.

Photo by Flickr user Martijn Nijenhuis, used under a Creative Commons license.

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