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Yudhoyono’s choice

Publication Date : 21-01-2014


Before Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono launched his autobiographical book on Friday, perhaps only four incumbent national leaders had managed to spare the time amid their tight day-to-day schedules to write a book. Now Yudhoyono has joined the ranks of the late Nelson Mandela, the late Ariel Sharon, former South Korean president Lee Myung-bak and former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva.

In publishing his book Selalu Ada Pilihan (There is Always a Choice), Yudhoyono lives up to his billing as a person with a penchant for intellectual exercise, which he partly proved when he obtained his doctorate degree in agricultural economics from the Bogor Agriculture University (IPB) in 2004 (when serving in the armed forces Yudhoyono was regarded as a military thinker). Some of his Cabinet members have acknowledged the President’s intellectual agility, which only a few can match.

In his book, which runs to more than 800 pages, Yudhoyono talks about many, perhaps too many, issues. These range from serious concerns like development, democracy and the rule of law, to rumors in social media about his youngest son Edhie Baskoro, who always appears in public wearing long-sleeved outfits. Readers will find the President’s answers to a wide range of matters, particularly those which have sparked controversy or raised public curiosity.

Sharing his experiences in running the administration and all the challenges he has met, including in dealing with Cabinet members from various political parties, Yudhoyono provides many “dos” and “don’ts” for whoever will succeed him as the country’s next leader. It seems the book offers best-practice advice for future presidents, who may face the same problems in coping with democracy a la Indonesia, which despite having, constitutionally, a presidential system of government, in reality allows a parliamentary system to prevail.

Yudhoyono’s efforts to memorise and take note of every conversation he has had with others, oftentimes in detail, and to articulate his opinions in his book deserve appreciation. He therefore should set a precedent for public officials to put on record their views as well as achievements and perhaps failures.

 The book, however, is far from being considered Yudhoyono’s legacy and maybe he does not intend it to be so. The best legacy, if any, is for the President to simply honor all his promises, in particular his pre-election pledges.

Take the investigation into the assassination of human rights defender Munir Said bin Thalib in September 2004. With the end of his presidential term approaching, his promise to uncover the mastermind behind the murder has remained unfulfilled and perhaps will now never happen since the Supreme Court has acquitted former Garuda pilot Polycarpus Budihari Priyanto of the charges of killing Munir.

Another gap between his words and actions was evinced in the last-minute compromise to relax the ore-export ban, which according to the 2009 Mining Law should have been effective as of Jan. 12, thereby displaying his government’s tendency to find loopholes in a law rather than enforcing it.


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