Indonesian opposition candidate Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is well on his way to a victory over incumbent Megawati Sukarnoputri in the Sept. 20 runoff presidential election. Regional neighbors interested in a more stable Indonesia that offers a more aggressive counterterrorism plan will welcome a Yudhoyono victory. Although the ideal is an Indonesia that more closely resembles neighboring Malaysia and Singapore — secure but not entirely authoritarian — miscalculations could easily put Jakarta back on a path to the Indonesia of the Suharto era — secure but a long way from democratic.
Indonesian opposition presidential candidate Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono appears well on his way to a substantial victory over incumbent president Megawati Sukarnoputri in the Sept. 20 runoff election. As of 8 p.m. Jakarta time, Yudhoyono was leading Megawati 58.8 percent to 41.1 percent. Though it will take weeks for all the votes from Indonesia's disparate islands to be tallied and final official results provided, Yudhoyono's victory seems assured. Perhaps most noticeable about the country's first direct presidential election since the fall of Suharto is the near lack of violence or unrest, in contrast to the run-up to the elections that initially brought Megawati in as vice president in 1999 under President Abdurrahman Wahid. The 2001 removal of Wahid from office also saw street demonstrations and violence, as supporters and opponents of the ailing president's policies and actions took to the streets. By contrast, the 2004 elections have seen few large-scale hostile demonstrations and little violence. This is a major step for Indonesia, particularly as Yudhoyono predicted violence should the election go to a runoff. Whether the former general was surmising based on past experience or simply raising fears to get a larger share of the vote is not entirely clear (it might have been a bit of both). But thus far, the transition from Megawati to her successor appears to be relatively calm. Yudhoyono is likely to be welcomed with open arms by Australia and the United States, as well as by his nearest neighbors. Unlike Megawati, Yudhoyono is a former military man, and his relations with the military and the security apparatus are much more secure. Rather than being a competing center of power, as Megawati was, Yudhoyono is better equipped to assist with the military's re-integration into politics and day-to-day security without risking his own position and influence. For regional neighbors, a Yudhoyono victory brings the potential for a more stable Indonesia, one much more ready to tackle Islamist militant threats and settle local insurgency issues. In addition, the military is much less likely to constrain domestic counterterrorism measures with a "rule of law" mentality, which slows response times and hinders investigations. While some civil liberties slide, preventative, rather than reactive, measures will take center stage. Moves already are under way to alter the role of the military and other intelligence services in Indonesia, which would allow these forces to make direct arrests and detentions without waiting for police. The plan also would centralize coordination of all branches of intelligence under one counterterrorism chief. With a better understanding of and relationship with the military, Yudhoyono also is better positioned to renegotiate relations with the United States, Australia and other Western nations, to re-establish or strengthen waning military ties and re-open Indonesia to new and modern arms sales. Ultimately, though Yudhoyono will attempt to retain the appearance if not reality of a full democracy in Indonesia, his relationship with the military and intelligence communities — along with the international interest in stability and aggressive counterterrorism actions — will further Indonesia on a path toward more centralized control and an integrated security apparatus. Although the goal is to resemble such stable regional states as Malaysia and Singapore, should things go poorly, Indonesia easily could find itself more closely resembling the Indonesia of Suharto — stable and reliable, but far from democratic.