SBY Set To Trounce Opponents

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More than 170 million Indonesians are expected to cast their votes today in the country’s second democratic presidential election. Polls leave little doubt that incumbent President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will be elected to serve a second term.

Rivalling the Democratic Party’s Yudhoyono and his running mate, Boediono, is former President Megawati Sukarnoputri of the Democratic Party of Struggle, with her running mate, Prabowo Subianto of the Great Indonesia Movement Party. Also in the race is Indonesia’s current vice president, Jusuf Kalla of the Golkar Party, teamed with Wiranto of the People’s Conscience Party.

All three tickets hark back to the days of Suharto’s military-run government: Yudhoyono, Prabowo and Wiranto all served as generals under the dictator.

It is no surprise that Yudhoyono is miles ahead of his opponents — the other two former generals still stand accused of gross human rights violations. Prabowo admitted to orchestrating the kidnappings and torture of at least nine human rights activists during the May 1998 riots against the Suharto government, while Wiranto headed the military during the Semanggi Tragedy, in which 17 people, mostly students, were shot dead by soldiers in a pro-democracy rally. Both are also accused of human rights violations in East Timor.

Human rights groups, such as Imparsial — which was co-founded by the murdered human rights activist Munir Said Thalib — criticise the Yudhoyono Government for taking a lenient stance on human rights violations.

Megawati’s political connections reach back to earlier than Suharto’s time. She is the daughter of Indonesia’s first president and independence hero, Sukarno, and has in the past shown that she shares her father’s distaste for the West. This is not the first time she has competed with Yudhoyono for the presidency — in 2004, she was beaten by the incumbent in a landslide election. Her government earned a reputation of being incompetent and corrupt before she was ousted.

There has been no shortage of corruption, scandal and smear campaigning in the run-up to today’s election.

The term neoliberal, a negative term in this debate for someone who supports a free-market economy, is the insult of the political season. Kalla’s team was accused of disseminating copies of a news article claiming that Boediono’s wife was a Catholic in the staunchly Islamic province of North Sumatra, prompting religious leaders to ask candidates to leave religion out of politics.

The General Election Commission, widely believed to be corrupt, has had to release a number of voter lists after irregularities, such as listing deceased voters, were found. A court ruled just this week that anyone with an ID card or passport, listed or not, would be able to vote in view of the inaccuracy of the voters list.

At a dramatic press conference in June, a top survey firm admitted that its poll, showing Yudhoyono with 70 per cent of the vote, had been funded by a consultancy working on behalf of Yudhoyono’s campaign team.  All three tickets have been accused of campaign violations (all are accused of paying "supporters" to attend rallies), although the Election Supervisory Board has done little probing into the matters.

If Yudhoyono does succeed without his sidekick Kalla, it will be the first time in more than 30 years that the national leadership will not include the Golkar Party which dominated politics during the Suharto era.

Yudhoyono’s approval rating varies widely from poll to poll, but it is clear that he well and truly holds the lead. Observers say that it is the incumbent’s success in strengthening the economy and his tough stance on corruption that will earn him a win today. Yudhoyono earlier this year cut the price of government-subsidised fuel, which has helped his approval rate. His government also provides cash assistance to the poor and has implemented a free-schooling program.

A recent poll conducted by Gallup showed his approval rating to be an astonishing 92 per cent, up from 69 per cent in 2008. With these numbers, Yudhoyono will easily win in the first round. To avoid a run-off in September he must receive more than 50 per cent of the vote. His Democratic Party has strengthened over the years, winning more than a quarter of the seats in April’s legislative elections, up from just 7.5 per cent in the 2004 elections.

James Van Zorge, partner of Van Zorge, Heffernan & Associates, a consulting firm based in Jakarta, thinks that Yudhoyono will again win in a landslide. "I think Indonesians are happy with the government. Thirty-six per cent of Indonesians are happy with their standard of living; that’s compared with 19 per cent just a year ago."

From an international perspective, Van Zorge said that Yudhoyono’s would be the most investment-friendly government, while a Megawati or Kalla government would take a protectionist route for the nation. Kalla, whose campaign slogan is "Faster, Better," has said that should he be elected, he will ban certain imports, such as milk, to protect local industries. Megawati, who is targeting the poor for votes, has made similar comments, mostly about making Indonesia a self-sustainable nation, a statement likely to appeal to Indonesia’s more than 25 million rice farmers.

Still, Van Zorge predicts that Yudhoyono, with his proven economic track record, will be difficult to budge. Indonesia has proved resilient during the worst global economic downturn in 70 years, with the rupiah being the best performing currency in Asia and the inflation rate standing steady at around 6 per cent. "The economy grew by around 6 per cent in 2008 and is growing now at a rate of 4 per cent," he said. "I think that is going to be the main driving force behind the election."

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