Bambang’s grand vision for change

IDSS-STRAITS TIMES FORUM ON INDONESIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

Presidential contender spells out in a smart booklet his plans for prosperity, fighting corruption and ensuring security

NEWS ANALYSIS

The blueprint comes in a smart blue booklet, titled Vision For Change.

Over 31 pages, presidential aspirant Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono outlines his plans for Indonesia if he is elected to office. It revolves around four pillars: prosperity, peace, justice and democracy.

His critics are bound to chastise him for yet another ‘nice-sounding speech’. But the ‘blue book’, as his aides describe it given the colour of its cover, encapsulates his reform agenda – and its limitations – in what will be his presidential election platform.

It also sets the enigmatic general miles apart from his key rivals – incumbent Megawati Sukarnoputri and former military commander Wiranto – in terms of defining what needs to be done to bring back the good old days in Indonesia.

Indonesian politicians almost always talk about peace, prosperity, justice and democracy. But, in most cases, they are mere platitudes, with no real plan of action.

The ‘blue book’ is far from perfect, but it gives a glimpse of the priorities of a Bambang administration if it came to power. Clearly, the economy is top of the agenda. The 54-year-old general noted that while the macro economic picture might be looking better for Indonesia, this is not translating into a better life for people on the ground.

Many continue to complain about rising prices, lack of jobs and opportunities.

His target is to achieve a 7 per cent annual growth rate. Domestically, he wants to revive the engine of economic recovery: small and medium-sized enterprises.

To do that, he is prepared to offer better credit lines, cut bureaucratic red tape for setting up businesses, and improve labour laws. The bigger challenge is to win over foreign and local investors.

He can only do so by tackling the perennial problem of corruption and strengthening the rule of law. Indonesia’s judiciary has come under scrutiny in recent years for a number of ‘strange’ rulings.

For example, a commercial court in June 2002 ruled Manulife Financial Corp’s local unit bankrupt following a dispute between the Canadian insurer and its former joint venture partner. The Supreme Court overturned the decision months later.

Mr Bambang does offer specifics on how he plans to crack down on a problem so deeply embedded in Indonesia. Those with misgivings about the way the last three administrations have dealt with corruption, will be somewhat assured by his promise to root out the problem from the ‘top down’.

Fighting corruption, he said, will require top leaders showing the way and setting an example. It will also involve giving more powers to government bodies and courts.

Linked to the broader goal of attracting investments is political stability. Given concerns of violence in far-flung provinces, Mr Bambang said that he would try to end armed separatist movements in Aceh and Papua.

Again, it is not going to be easy to resolve. But here, his position clearly shows his ideological bent and the limits to how far he is prepared to push the reformist agenda.

Underlying this grand vision are the Pancasila state doctrine and preserving Indonesia’s territorial integrity. These are non-negotiable.

He told The Straits Times: ‘We need to balance liberty with security. What is the point of having democracy if there is no stability?’

His ideological thinking lies between two of Indonesia’s former leaders – Mr Sukarno and Suharto. Mr Sukarno, he noted, had fire in the belly and instilled national pride. Suharto stood for precious order and stability.

The conservative streak can be traced to his military ideals. But he is no ultra-nationalist.

His overseas education gave him a broad view of the world and made him one of the leading reformers in the armed forces where he rose up the ranks to become a four-star general.

His vision is a balance between conservatism and reform. But the underlying theme here is one of change. The blue book is all about bringing change to Indonesia.

‘Change is necessary because if we continue like this, Indonesia will descend into decay,’ he said.

The real hard work of convincing voters to buy into his vision for change begins next week, when campaigning kicks off on Tuesday.

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