Subject: Canberra is at ease with SBY, but the military seems
unreformed, writes Hamish McDonald
Sydney Morning Herald
Change with a few rough edges
March 13, 2010
History's verdict not settled ... Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Photo: Glen McCurtayne
Canberra is at ease with SBY, but the military seems unreformed, writes Hamish McDonald.
Domestic political change can do wonders for a foreign relationship. The atmospherics around Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's visit to Canberra this week have been light years away from the conspiratorial aura around the first Indonesian presidential visit, by the late General Suharto in 1972.
The sense of wonder about this change in our foreign policy circles was reflected by Foreign Minister Stephen Smith after Yudhoyono's two days of talks.
''We've had conversations which have ranged across capital punishment and the Bali Nine, the Balibo Five, people smuggling, and a range of other things which in the past if they'd been discussed or been made public would have rocked the relationship,'' Smith said.
Mostly that's put down to the way Yudhoyono, or SBY as he's commonly known, came to office - through two boisterous direct elections, the most recent delivering a landslide win last year, rather than the manipulated, intimidatory processes that gained Suharto the semblance of a mandate. It also comes down to generational change. Yudhoyono and many of his ministers have postgraduate degrees from foreign universities, speak English confidently, and mix easily with Westerners, unlike Suharto and his group of generals who emerged from Japanese occupation and colonial struggles with limited formal education.
And if the atmosphere with Australian counterparts could almost be called collegial, that's because the SBY delegation was packed with ministers and officials who either studied or worked here. His new foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, did his PhD in international relations at the Australian National University, across the lake from Parliament House. His trade minister, Mari Elka Pangestu, did her undergraduate and master's studies at the ANU before getting her economics doctorate in America.
Yudhoyono himself, while not formally studying in Australia, was brought to Canberra in 1998 as the Suharto regime crumbled, and was encouraged in his reformist thoughts. He sent his second son, Ibas, for an economics degree at Curtin University.
Canberra has embraced Yudhoyono in a way not seen since, well, when it embraced Suharto in the late 1960s. After Suharto and his regime fell, it had an uncertain, if exciting, six years as the presidency went to the erratic B.J.Habibie, Abdurrahman Wahid and Megawati Sukarnoputri. When Yudhoyono finally emerged as the winner in 2004, Canberra greeted the stable, bookish ''thinking general'' (by then transformed into a civilian with a doctorate in economic development) with relief.
Here at last was a leadership with both the popularity across Indonesia and the standing within Jakarta's elite to pursue tough economic policies, reform institutions ridden with corruption and human rights abuses, and handle the periodic problems in bilateral relations without the instant, defensive nationalism that marked many previous responses.
As he gets into his second five-year term, Yudhoyono has been showered with accolades in Canberra as a political game-changer. The question among many analysts, though, is how permanently has SBY changed the game in Jakarta.
Edward Aspinall, a specialist in Indonesian politics at the ANU, is not so sure that he has. ''The enthusiasm for SBY reminds me of the enthusiasm there once for Fidel Ramos in the Philippines - a former military guy, speaks the language of leaders of Western countries, seen as a moderate reformer, a stabiliser, responsible,'' Aspinall said. ''The risk is that once SBY goes there will be a real backsliding.''
Yudhoyono's biggest achievement, for Aspinall, has been the peace settlement in Aceh, capitalising on the transformative mood after the December 2004 tsunami to end 30 years of a military response to the northern Sumatra region's separatist rebellion. ' ''He did play a major personal role there,'' Aspinall said.
But other reforms, like the introduction of a powerful anti-corruption commission, known as the KPK, have been legacies of the earlier post-Suharto presidents. Likewise the military's march back to the barracks. Since his sacking of a sinister military chief installed by his predecessor Megawati in her last days in office, he's pursued no serious reform. The military largely ignored a 2004 decree requiring it to divest its business arms by last year, while Yudhoyono has failed to tackle what's commonly called ''military impunity'', Aspinall said. Indeed, Yudhoyono continues to promote some tainted officers, such as Lieutenant-General Syafrie Syamsuddin, accused of abuses in Jakarta and East Timor, who's just been made Vice-Minister of Defence. ''The presence of those sort of people does raise question marks about what SBY really does believe,'' Aspinall said. ''What you can say is that the military remains an unreformed institution.''
This sustains the most likely issue to cause another crisis with Australia, repression in Papua, instantly reviving the popular stereotypes that Yudhoyono tried to combat in his parliamentary speech: on the Australian side, that Indonesia remained a harsh military regime; on the Indonesian side, that Australia wanted to break up its territory.
Outside Parliament House, as Yudhoyono spoke, was the slight figure of Herman Wainggai, standing with a small group of fellow Papuans in front of their Morning Star independence flag. Wainggai was one of the 43 Papuan dissidents and family members who arrived across the Torres Strait in 2006 and asked for political asylum, throwing bilateral relations into a paroxysm.
Stephen Smith cited the ''Lombok Treaty'' that smoothed over this incident, declaring Australia's respect for Indonesia's territorial integrity including over the two provinces in Papua, accompanied by promises of autonomy and free speech for Papua's people.
But that side of the deal wasn't directly mentioned by Yudhoyono, and to many analysts, the Papuan provinces remain the last bastion of Soeharto-style rule, heavily garrisoned, with military and police involved in illegal logging and other rackets, and closed to foreign journalists and aid workers. Wainggai said refugees are still crossing into Papua New Guinea. ''Many are still in jail - we don't have freedom of speech or freedom in West Papua,'' he said.
So far, the SBY presidency has got more praise for economic rigour, chiefly implemented by his Finance Minister, Sri Mulyani Indrawati, who has replaced corrupt officials in the tax and customs service, simplified tax structures, clarified state finances and reduced fuel subsidies.
The political support behind these reforms has unravelled badly in recent months, however, as the powerful business-political figure Aburizal Bakrie tried to shake Sri Mulyani out of the government, by attacking the emergency bail-out of a faltering, and as it turned out, dodgily run private bank during the 2008 global financial crisis.
During SBY's first term, visiting Indonesian analysts said this week, Bakrie effectively bankrolled the President's consensus-building, working through then vice-president Yusuf Kalla, who was also Golkar's chief. The SBY alliance with Golkar ended with the last elections, when Kalla stood separately and badly.
He was replaced as vice-president by another economic technocrat, Boediono (also an Australian alumnus, from Monash).
Yudhoyono intervened late against the attempt to impeach Sri Mulyani and Boediono, endorsing their decision to bail out Bank Century just before setting off to Australia. Whether his authority, or taste for economic reform, can survive a continuing stand-off with Bakrie remains to be seen.
Thus the Yudhoyono presidency is far from being written into history as an era of lasting reform. ''If you look at it favourably, you'd see it as a period of consolidation, of locking in the achievements of earlier years of reform,'' Aspinall said. ''But viewed less favourably, you'd see it as a period of stasis.''