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1 1 The moderating president: Yudhoyono’s decade in power Edward Aspinall, Marcus Mietzner and Dirk Tomsa Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono presided over a critical period in Indonesia ’s modern history. During his decade in power, between 2004 and 2014, Indonesia’s new democracy stabilised. Not only was Yudhoyono able to serve out his two full terms without experiencing any major political crisis or disruption to his government, but he also managed to implement democratic reforms initiated before he took office, such as popular elections of heads of provinces, cities and districts. Democratic elections were generally well run and the military kept out of day-to-day political affairs. The new Corruption Eradication Commission (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi, KPK) began to make inroads into the elite-level corruption that had bedevilled the country. While the 1998–2004 transition from the authoritarian rule of long-time president Suharto had been marked by significant ethnic, religious and other forms of violent conflict, the Yudhoyono years were far more peaceful, symbolised by the signing of the Aceh peace agreement in 2005. Indonesia maintained an impressive rate of economic growth averaging over 5 per cent, paid off the debts it had accrued to the International Monetary Fund during the 1997–98 economic crisis and succeeded in reducing the official poverty rate from 16.7 per cent in 2004 to 11.5 per cent in 2013.1 Moreover, it seemed to be playing a major role in world affairs, with the country gaining entry to the G20 club of major economies, and with the president touting Indonesia’s inter­ national leadership role as a modern Muslim democracy. 1 See the figures by the central statistics agency at tab_sub/view.php?kat=1&tabel=1&daftar=1&id_subyek=23¬ab=7. Update book 2014-15.indb 1 19/04/2015 11:39 am 2  The Yudhoyono Presidency: Indonesia’s Decade of Stability and Stagnation However, Yudhoyono’s record of success was far from being unadulterated . As we shall show in this chapter and throughout this book, every time the president or his supporters pointed to an achievement, his critics were ready to identify a contradiction, failing or shortcoming. With regard to his democratic record, for example, some observers have characterised the Yudhoyono period as being marked by stagnation rather than progress (Tomsa 2010; Fealy 2011; Mietzner 2012; McRae 2013). In the economic field, Yudhoyono was widely criticised for being reluctant to push through major structural reforms (such as the full elimination of costly fuel subsidies) that would have freed funds for much-needed investments in infrastructure, education and other fields. Though poverty declined, it did so at a slower rate than during the late Suharto years; the number of the near-poor living on less than $2 a day remained close to half the population; and inequality significantly worsened (see Chapter 16 by Manning and Miranti for details). In international affairs, critics often suggested that the president and his foreign policy apparatus appeared unable to enunciate a set of clear and precise goals and did not seem to know quite what to do with Indonesia’s newfound global profile . Thus, much controversy surrounds how best to interpret the Yudhoyono presidency and its legacy. It should not surprise us that assessments of the personal role played by Yudhoyono in Indonesia’s stabilisation and transformation have been highly divergent. While controversy is to be expected in assessments of any head of state, they have been unusually polarised in the case of Yudhoyono. Internationally, the president has been lauded as a visionary democratic leader. In 2014, for example, he was feted at UN headquarters in New York and praised by US President Barack Obama for his ‘leadership which has succeeded in leading Indonesia toward democratic transition ’ (Cabinet Secretariat 2014). In contrast, large parts of Indonesia’s commentariat and the politically engaged public became increasingly disillusioned with the president, especially as the end of his second term neared. The most consistent line of criticism was that Yudhoyono was a peragu—a hesitator or vacillator—who took such care to avoid political controversy that he was rarely able to take decisive policy action. In the place of the authoritative and firm leader many Indonesians had expected when they first elected him, by the end many saw him as incurably hesitant and compromising. How do we make sense of these very divergent assessments of Yudhoyono , his presidency and his legacy? Our fundamental proposition in this chapter is that Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono might be thought...


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