Ex-general heads for big election win in Indonesia

Posted in Other | 21-Sep-04 | Author: Kathy Marks| Source: The Independent

Former general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono defeated Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri in a historic direct election.

A former army general is poised to become Indonesia's first directly elected leader, with early results from yesterday's presidential poll suggesting a humiliating defeat for the incumbent, Megawati Sukarnoputri.

A "quick count" by the respected National Democratic Institute (NDI) gave Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono 62 per cent of the vote, compared with 38 per cent for Mrs Megawati. The official result is not expected for a fortnight, but the Washington-based NDI has accurately predicted many election outcomes around the world.

The result heralds a new era for Indonesia, which has stagnated for three years under Mrs Megawati, widely criticised as passive and aloof. Mr Susilo, known as SBY, has promised to rejuvenate the economy and stamp out corruption while taking a more conciliatory line on separatist hot spots such as Aceh in Sumatra.

More than 140,000 police officers were deployed amid fears of more terrorist attacks after a suicide car bomb killed nine people outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta 12 days ago.

Mr Susilo's victory will be welcomed by the US and other Western nations, who regard him as a reliable ally in cracking down on extremist groups in the world's most populous Islamic country. A former security minister, he led the fight against domestic terrorism after the Bali bombings in 2002.

At a brief late-night news conference, a stern-faced Mr Susilo insisted he was not making a victory speech. When photographers urged him to shake his running mate's hand, Mr Susilo said: "No. People will think we feel we've won."

But he did reach out to Mrs Megawati, who has barely acknowledged him since he quit her cabinet in March after a row over his presidential ambitions.

"It is time for reconciliation," Mr Susilo said. "I acknowledge during this competition that there is distance between the supporters of Megawati and myself. I expect we have to be more united in the near future to face the national challenge of building a better Indonesia."

The election is a major step on Indonesia's path to democracy after the fall of President Suharto in 1998. Mr Susilo narrowly won a first round in July which left him facing Mrs Megawati in yesterday's run-off.

Mr Susilo, 55, served in successive cabinets, rising through the ranks under Suharto. Many see him as representing a break from the country's corrupt past. His tough talk on terror has also made the graduate of US army courses a favourite among Western governments

Mrs Megawati - daughter of Indonesia's founding president Sukarno, and icon of reform in the late stages of the Suharto dictatorship - was once adored by the impoverished masses, but her remote and indecisive leadership alienated voters.

"The important thing is whoever becomes president must show concern for the people," John Sinania, 39, a government employee in the eastern city of Ambon, told Reuters. Iman Rahadi, 28, a hotel worker in Jakarta, said he was sick of bombs exploding. "I want a leader who has a military background because this country needs a leader who knows how to handle security problems."

Mr Susilo has offered only vague promises on how to deal with the country's problems, but has demonstrated empathy with ordinary Indonesians. Good-looking and articulate, he has distanced himself from his former career as a high-ranking general under Suharto.

The election has also reinforced Indonesia's image as a moderate Islamic country where most revile the extremism that fuels terrorist attacks. Islamic candidates polled poorly in the first round. Mr Susilo and Mrs Megawati are both secular nationalists.