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199 11 Yudhoyono’s politics and the harmful implications for gender equality in Indonesia Melani Budianta, Kamala Chandrakirana and Andy Yentriyani Excuse me, Mr President … I am impatiently waiting for your presidency to finish … And I long for … patriotic anthems … not songs that you have composed yourself … (Open letter to Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono by senior journalist Linda Djalil, 18 November 2013) In 2004, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono became the first Indonesian president to be elected directly by the people through free and peaceful democratic elections. In 2009, he was re-elected with impressive support of more than 61 per cent of the vote. Significantly, in both elections Yudhoyono enjoyed particularly high popularity among women voters. In 2009, for example, an exit poll conducted by the Indonesian Survey Institute (Lembaga Survei Indonesia, LSI) found that 66 per cent of women, but only 55 per cent of men, had supported Yudhoyono, prompting LSI researcher Saiful Mujani to conclude that the president had been ‘saved by women voters’.1 Maeswera (2009: 81) echoed this view, noting that Yudhoyono was particularly popular with mature women, including married women and mothers (ibu-ibu), due to his handsome appearance and his image as a guitar-playing songwriter. (Yudhoyono would produce four albums during his presidency.) 1 ‘SBY dibela perempuan, Mega disukai laki-laki’ [SBY defended by women, Mega favoured by men], Viva News, 9 July 2009. Update book 2014-15.indb 199 19/04/2015 11:39 am 200  The Yudhoyono Presidency: Indonesia’s Decade of Stability and Stagnation Recognising his standing with female voters, Yudhoyono made lofty promises to women’s rights activists towards the end of his first term. Speaking at a national event in 2009 to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the founding of the National Commission on Violence against Women (Komisi Nasional Anti Kekerasan Terhadap Perempuan, Komnas Perempuan), Yudhoyono emphatically declared that the state should immediately implement its responsibilities to protect women from violence and injustice and empower women in all aspects of life, giving them greater choice and access to full participation in public life: I need to reiterate what I have said in various forums in the last five years. I have stated that all of us—especially the state—must give better protection to women; must promote them and give them opportunity and empowerment. I could not but underline these three important things, protection, promotion and empowerment of the women in our beloved country. We need not only policies and strategies, but more importantly operational and practical steps that can immediately be applied in our lives (Yudhoyono 2009: 2). Towards the end of his second term, however, it was clear that these promises were nowhere near being realised. Political representation of women had dropped and the state was not reducing rates of violence against women or the maternal mortality rate. Indonesia’s ranking on the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index fell during the last years of Yudhoyono’s presidency, from 90 out of 135 countries in 2011 (with a score of 0.659) to 97 out of 142 countries in 2014 (with a score of 0.672) (WEF 2011, 2014). Unsurprisingly, therefore, many women activists were disappointed with Yudhoyono’s presidency. Capturing this sense of disappointment , journalist Linda Djalil posted a lyrical open letter entitled ‘Excuse me, Mr President …’ on the internet, which went viral in social media in late 2013 (Djalil 2013). In it, she described herself as a formerly ardent supporter of the president who now could not wait for his term in office to end, and who longingly remembered ‘the time when the anniversary of independence on August 17 was filled with the patriotic anthems of Ismail Marzuki [a composer of nationalist songs], sung for decades by children choirs, not songs that you [the president] have composed yourself’. The letter went on to list a series of unfulfilled promises relating to Yudhoyono’s handling of a number of controversial issues. Djalil’s letter reflected the general disappointment in Yudhoyono’s performance towards the end of his presidency, particularly among women who had voted him into power (Manangka 2013). Against this background, this chapter seeks to explain the contradictions between Yudhoyono’s apparently women-friendly declarations and the many setbacks for the status of women in public life during his presidency. We argue that it was the combination of the president’s personal piety, his reluctance to tackle much-needed reforms and his personalised style in Update book 2014-15.indb 200 19/04/2015 11...


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