Yudhoyono : Don’t expect quick cures

New President lists graft, poverty, extremism, rebellions among key problems.

INDONESIA’S new president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was sworn in yesterday as the country’s sixth leader and immediately gave his people a wake-up call on the challenges ahead.

He pointed to the major issues his administration would have to tackle, which his predecessors had done little to resolve since Mr Suharto’s fall in 1998: widespread poverty, endemic graft, growing Islamic extremism, and separatist conflicts in Aceh and Papua.

The 55-year-old retired general’s maiden speech was laced with caution as he urged Indonesians not to expect instant results.

‘We have to remember that we will have to weather a difficult period and face serious challenges,’ he said. ‘All these complex and difficult problems of our nation cannot possibly be overcome in 100 days, with a flick of the wrist.’

Winning the country’s first direct leadership ballot by a huge margin – 60 per cent of the 115 million votes cast – could strengthen his hand in dealing with some of the sprawling archipelago’s most chronic problems.

But along with this mandate comes what Dr Yudhoyono privately calls ‘his toughest battle’: meeting unrealistic expectations from the millions fed up with corrupt and ineffective leadership.

In a 20-minute televised address to the nation, Dr Yudhoyono said one of his biggest tasks was to revive a moribund economy and restore international confidence.

‘Our economic growth is far below 7 per cent and is not yet enough to provide jobs,’ he said, Vice-President Jusuf Kalla by his side.

‘More than 10 million of our brothers are still jobless, some 16 per cent of our people are still living below the poverty line.’

He pledged market-friendly policies to encourage foreign investment.

Also high on his list were the wars on corruption and terrorism. He said he would personally head a new team to fight graft, which ‘remained a systemic problem’.

Warning that the ‘ghost of terrorism’ still haunted Indonesia, which has been hit by three devastating bombings in the past three years, he made clear he would take the necessary measures to combat extremists.

His government would also ‘give special attention’ to the conflicts in Aceh and Papua, provinces where bloody conflicts between government forces and separatist rebels have killed thousands.

Hours before his speech, a solemn Dr Yudhoyono, in dark suit and black head gear, took the oath of office amid heavy security in a cavernous hall at Parliament.

‘In the name of Allah I swear I will meet my obligations as President – as fully and as justly as possible,’ he said as an Islamic official held a Quran over his head.

Among those witnessing the historic moment were leaders from Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, East Timor and Australia.

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said after the ceremony that he looked forward to working with the new President to boost bilateral ties. ‘I think it’s a significant milestone for Indonesia and an opportunity for us to take our relations a step forward.’

Outgoing president Megawati Sukarnoputri was conspicuous by her absence from her successor’s swearing in, as she continued to snub him.

Signs also emerged yesterday of the difficulties the new President will face, as he was forced by coalition partners into making last-minute changes to his ministerial line-up.

Last night, the President announced his new 34-member Cabinet, made up predominantly of professionals.

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