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55 4 Men on horseback and their droppings: Yudhoyono’s presidency and legacies in comparative regional perspective John T. Sidel Conventional understandings of the Yudhoyono years have long been framed in terms of personal leadership. This focus on personal leadership has been abundantly evident in journalistic treatments of Indonesian politics, and in everyday commentaries, comparisons and counterfactual musings about the strengths and weaknesses of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ’s presidency. There is also a long history of academic preoccupation with questions of leadership in Indonesian politics, dating back to Herbert Feith’s account of the tensions and conflicts between ‘solidaritymakers ’ and ‘problem-solvers’ in the decline of constitutional democracy in the 1950s and extending into the writings of William Liddle over the long rule of the Suharto regime (Feith 1962; Liddle 1996). Recent years, moreover, have seen a wide range of institutions and authors in the socalled development industry emphasising and extolling leadership as a (if not the) crucial ingredient in enacting economic reforms, enhancing good governance and otherwise promoting development (see, for example , Grindle 2007). This tendency to emphasise—and essentialise—leadership as a personal quality of individuals has almost always served as a substitute, rather than a starting point, for serious analysis of Indonesian politics. It is often said that Presidents B.J. Habibie and Abdurrahman Wahid were mercurial and erratic; President Megawati Sukarnoputri was staid and standoffish; and PresidentYudhoyono was indecisive and conflict-averse. In lieu of references to traditional Javanese culture and jargon from the heyday of modernisation theory, today’s political analysis simply uses Update book 2014-15.indb 55 19/04/2015 11:39 am 56  The Yudhoyono Presidency: Indonesia’s Decade of Stability and Stagnation the language of personality tests, pop psychology, pulp fiction and the tabloids. Indonesian presidents, it is assumed, have different personalities that explain the different politics they pursue and produce. Thus, after the July 2014 presidential elections, leading commentators on Indonesian politics breathed a collective sigh of relief that the hot-headed, ill-tempered, violence-prone Prabowo Subianto had lost his presidential bid and would not be subjecting Indonesian society to his authoritarian personality disorder and childish antics for the next five years, and that the appealingly approachable, earnest, easygoing and apparently incorruptible Joko Widodo (Jokowi) had been cast in the leading role in Indonesia ’s political drama instead (Mietzner 2014). If this kind of individualised ‘great man’/personality-based approach to Indonesian politics is ultimately unhelpful, inaccurate and obfuscatory, a comparative perspective on presidential leadership in Indonesia may prove more illuminating instead. Indeed, Stephen Skowronek has shown how a longitudinal analysis of presidential leadership in the United States reveals striking patterns suggestive of structural logics exceeding the personal foibles and fortes of individual national executives. Certainly it is no accident that the presidents most widely celebrated for their mastery of American politics have been immediately preceded by presidents generally judged politically incompetent. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, James Buchanan and Abraham Lincoln, Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan—this repeated pairing of dismal failure with stunning success is one of the more striking patterns in presidential history, and accounting for it forces us to alter the ways we have been thinking about that history. In the first place, we are prompted to think about what incumbents in very different historical periods have in common with one another and not with their immediate predecessors or successors. What conditions for leadership did the latter presidents in each of these pairs share; what could they do that their predecessors could not? Conversely, what conditions for leadership did the first presidents in each pair share; what did they do to open the door to greatness for their successors? Note further that by accounting for the pattern in this way, we place the leaders themselves in a different light. A search for the typical effects that presidential action has in differently structured political contexts takes us behind the familiar portraits of individual incompetence and mastery. If it turns out that the ‘great’ political leaders have all made the same kind of politics and if that politics is only made in a certain kind of situation, then our celebration of their extraordinary talents and skills will be seen to obscure more than it clarifies (Skowronek 1997: 8–9). But while Skowronek could identify recurring patterns over more than 200 years and 40-odd presidents in the American context of uninterrupted institutional continuity, it is hard...


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