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35 3 The politics of Yudhoyono: majoritarian democracy, insecurity and vanity Greg Fealy* In the twilight of his presidency, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono spoke reflectively to his personal staff about his place in Indonesian history and on the world stage. He saw himself as holding the exalted position of one of his nation’s great presidents, if not the greatest. Moreover, he was convinced that he bore comparison with other leading contemporary international figures, such as Barack Obama, Tony Blair, David Cameron and Angela Merkel. He saw these leaders as peers because, like them, he had not only had a major impact on his own country but also become a significant player in global affairs.1 Yudhoyono’s lofty opinion of his own attainments stands in contrast to the widespread opinion of scholars and political commentators that he was a good, but not a great, president (Bachelard 2014; Howes and Davies 2014). His achievements have often been referred to and it is only necessary to refer briefly to them here. He is credited with stabilising and consolidating democracy in Indonesia; facilitating the fight against corruption; overseeing the peace process in Aceh; providing policies that led to high economic growth; and supporting law enforcement agencies in their counterterrorism operations. * I would like to thank Ken Ward, Angus McIntyre, Adi Abidin, David Jenkins and Marcus Mietzner for their assistance in preparing this chapter. Their stimulating observations on Yudhoyono and their comments on draft versions of the text have proven very helpful. 1 Much of the information in this article comes from confidential interviews in Jakarta in January, May and August 2014. Unless otherwise stated, the material in this chapter comes from sources that cannot be disclosed. Update book 2014-15.indb 35 19/04/2015 11:39 am 36  The Yudhoyono Presidency: Indonesia’s Decade of Stability and Stagnation Arguably, the principal reason that Yudhoyono was not a better president was that he was too hesitant and indecisive—in a position that required the very opposite of these traits. One of the most common terms used by Yudhoyono’s detractors to describe him was ‘peragu’, a waverer or doubt-ridden person. And indeed, he lacked the gumption to take bold decisions that is the mark of a great leader. A vivid early illustration of Yudhoyono’s indecisiveness comes from 2002 when, as coordinating minister for political and security affairs in Megawati Sukarnoputri’s government, he was tasked with overseeing peace negotiations with the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM). A senior diplomat on the Indonesian negotiating team recalled that the initial discussions with Yudhoyono went well: ‘We presented him with a quite complex brief but were surprised at how quickly he grasped the details. He was very impressive intellectually’. The problems began, however, when the team asked for guidance on their negotiating position. Yudhoyono requested a succession of option papers over the following weeks but repeatedly failed to give instructions. Matters came to a head as the negotiators were about to depart for meetings with GAM in Geneva. The exasperated team leader called the minister from Jakarta airport and told him he needed his negotiating directions without further delay. Yudhoyono then asked, ‘Which option do you think is best?’ The team leader told him and Yudhoyono immediately replied with relief, ‘Yes, I agree. Use that option’. In recounting this story, the senior diplomat concluded that ‘Yudhoyono just can’t make a decision. He understands, but he can’t decide. That’s his big problem’. Indeed, dithering on big decisions was a hallmark of Yudhoyono’s political career, and there are a great many anecdotes from his time as president that make the depth of his irresolution clear. To explain Yudhoyono’s political behaviour, it is necessary to reflect not only on the societal context in which he operated (see Chapter 4 by Sidel), but also on the personal reasons for both his chronic hesitancy and the vanity that led him to ascribe greatness to himself. I will argue that the key to understanding both of these traits is insecurity. Throughout his life, Yudhoyono has suffered from corrosive self-doubt, which he seeks to manage by limiting the risk of criticism while attempting to cloak his emotional fragility in grandiosity. But why would a man who had won two handsome popular mandates as president, risen to the rank of general, gained a PhD and won international plaudits for his statesman -like qualities want for self-regard? To answer this I will draw on...


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