- The Washington Times - Monday, October 4, 2004

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was declared Indonesia’s next president yesterday and now faces the tough task of rebuilding a country plagued by attacks from al Qaeda-linked terrorists, separatist conflicts and an economy still reeling from the 1998 Asian financial crisis.

The U.S.-educated Mr. Yudhoyono won 60 percent of the vote compared with President Megawati Sukarnoputri’s 39 percent in the Sept. 20 runoff election, final results showed yesterday. He will be inaugurated Oct. 20 and is expected to announce his Cabinet soon afterward.

Even with his popular mandate, the 55-year-old general, who critics say has a history of indecisiveness, declined to declare victory yesterday or give specifics on how he intended to govern the world’s largest Muslim nation.

“Our big theme will be reconciliation and working together within democracy for the country’s future,” he told reporters in his first comments after being declared the winner. He did not elaborate.

Mr. Yudhoyono was planning to make an acceptance speech but canceled after Mrs. Megawati refused to concede, his aides said.

Mrs. Megawati stopped just short of admitting defeat in an emotional address earlier today to mark the founding of the country’s armed forces.

“Whoever is chosen in a democratic election has to be accepted, because that is a victory for all of us,” she said, fighting back tears.

World leaders, including President Bush and Australian Prime Minister John Howard, congratulated the new Indonesian leader yesterday.

“We look forward to working with President-elect Yudhoyono in further strengthening our ties and enhancing the welfare of our peoples,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

Analysts said Mr. Yudhoyono could go a long way to shoring up his popularity and pleasing markets in the first few weeks by picking a Cabinet of professionals.

He also could declare a policy agenda that reflects voters’ desires for a crackdown on widespread corruption and a reduction of the country’s double-digit unemployment rate that has lingered since the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis.

He could also take a tougher stand against hard-line Islamist groups by formally outlawing the al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah terror group, which has been blamed for a string of bombings, including the Sept. 9 attack outside the Australian Embassy and the Oct. 12, 2002, Bali bombings that killed 202 persons.

Mr. Yudhoyono attended officer training college in the United States and led the country’s anti-terror effort as Mrs. Megawati’s security minister. He is also credited with attempting to bring peace to the province of Aceh, where separatist guerrillas have been fighting since 1976 for an independent homeland.

He has said he wants to settle the conflict peacefully but must contend with a powerful military that believes force is the best option.

“We still have a political and economic crisis in the country so it is important for us to have a credible Cabinet,” said analyst Eep Saefulloh Fatah.

The election was the first in which Indonesia’s 210 million people voted for their president directly. The ballot, which was peaceful and free of irregularities, was praised as a key step in the country’s transition to democracy after the downfall of dictator Suharto in 1998.

The biggest challenge for Mr. Yudhoyono will be balancing the expectations of his supporters for far-reaching reforms with the political realities on the ground.

His Democratic Party has less than 10 percent of the seats in parliament, meaning he will either have to forge coalitions with the political elite who he ran against, or go it alone and risk political gridlock during his five-year tenure.

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