Yudhoyono to be sworn in today

DR SUSILO Bambang Yudhoyono will be sworn in today as Indonesia’s sixth president at a ceremony attended by an unprecedented number of foreign leaders.

Five heads of government will be present at the inauguration in the country’s highest legislative body, where the 55-year-old retired general will give a glimpse of his road map to tackle major problems such as graft, terrorism and a moribund economy.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and Timor Leste Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri will be among the top guests at the two-hour session.

Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, South Korea and the Netherlands are sending special envoys to the event, which will be attended by Indonesian legislators and the diplomatic corps. Rarely has such an occasion in Indonesia attracted so much international attention.

Ceremonies for the past three presidents since Mr Suharto’s fall in 1998 – B.J. Habibie, Abdurrahman Wahid and Megawati Sukarnoputri – were relatively low-key because invitations were not extended to dignitaries abroad.

The decision to open the ceremony to foreign leaders is partly a result of Dr Yudhoyono taking the first step in building goodwill with the international community.

His senior aide told The Straits Times: ‘We discussed it with the legislators and felt that it was in the interest of the new president to touch base with leaders in the region whom he will be working closely with.’

Asian officials reveal that the turnout also was linked to the close ties built up by regional states with Indonesia over the years.

A seasoned diplomat here noted: ‘It is even more significant now because this is the first time that a president has been elected directly in Indonesia. Neighbouring countries especially want to show their support for the new government.’

Dr Yudhoyono may have received the endorsement of foreign leaders. But back home, outgoing president Ms Megawati continued to snub him, refusing to even concede defeat and brushing aside suggestions to attend the inauguration.

She will leave office today in the same fashion many say characterised her three years as leader – silent and aloof.

Nevertheless, Dr Yudhoyono will probably touch on the importance of political reconciliation in his speech today after he takes the oath of office, aides said.

He is also expected to make clear some of his policies on fighting terrorism and corruption as well as restoring economic growth six years after the financial crisis.

An important measure of his resolve to tackle the chronic problems will be the Cabinet line-up, which he will announce soon after his inauguration.

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