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SBY Takes Landslide Victory

According to Voice of America, an international broadcasting service funded by the US government and the Broadcasting Board of Governors, unofficial results for the Indonesian presidential elections reveal a landslide victory for incumbent president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

As is typical of Indonesia, the opposition have made allegations of voter fraud, but the country’s analysts and the Foreign Correspondents Club in Jakarta expect the final count to corroborate independent surveys, which predicted a 60% win for SBY.

The Economist was less optimistic about these projections, citing SBY’s failure to deliver on the majority of his campaign promises. The article entitled “More of the Same,” claims the following:

Only a quarter of the measures he promised in 2004 to improve the investment climate have been implemented. Desperately needed infrastructure development has been sluggish. Legal and judicial reforms have been patchy. Little progress has been made on improving labour-market regulation. The armed forces are so under-financed that aircraft crashes have become a monthly occurrence.

Meanwhile official poverty and unemployment rates, at 14.2% and 8.2% respectively, are much higher than he promised when he was first elected. Health-service delivery is widely considered woeful. Religious minorities believe they are more fiercely persecuted than five years ago. Then there is the minor matter of the world’s worst recession in decades, which has taken its toll throughout South-East Asia’s export-oriented economies.

They attribute his victories to “luck and skill,” particularly his resurgent direct cash transfers to families, the his opponent’s poor campaigning, and the rather conciliatory nature of the democratic system.

Nevertheless, Yudhoyono’s first term has been a watershed administration in terms of its success of anti-corruption and a persistent growth rate of at least 4%. His re-election may bouy the national economy and the image of majority-Muslim nations.

Columnist and public-affairs show host Wimar Witoelar told VOA, “Now he can, together with our Barack Obama, build a new world on tolerance, on ethnic diversity and all the good things we have sought.”

If SBY is in fact a decisive a winner. There will not be a run-off election in September and SBY will greet President Obama when he arrives in Asia later this year.

— Tina Carter, Trinity ’10
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Indonesia: Where VPs Matter

Debates among Indonesia’s vice presidential candidates will be held tonight, and many are hoping that they will be more substantial than last Thursday’s presidential debates, which the Jakarta Post called an exercise in “insipid lip service.” Of the presidential debates, Singapore Institute of Internal Affairs reported,

The first televised debate between the presidential candidates… was a disappointing moment for audiences and pundits alike, as the 3 candidates failed to engage in significant debate about the substantive issues that face Indonesia, the caliber of the candidates or the substance of their electoral platforms.

The outcome of the first debate is likely to play in Yudhoyono’s favour, who currently leads the other presidential candidates in the polls, and whose party won the general elections that just passed with a wide margin. If the other presidential candidates and their running partners fail to use the following televised debates to distinguish their electoral platforms, Yudhoyono’s current popularity will be undiminished.

Given the popular failing of the presidential debates, candidates have also been conducting grassroots campaigns, appealing to farmers, business men…and journalists. The Jakarta Post reports,

Under the contract, Megawati agreed that, if she and her running mate, Prabowo Subianto, were elected in the election on July 8, her administration would ensure adequate provisions of fertilizer and irrigation water were made available for rice paddy fields. Agriculture is one of the Megawati ticket’s top development priorities.

… [Incumbent] Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono also promised local businesspeople that, if re-elected, he would simplify the procedure for obtaining business licenses.

Before his speech, SBY bought fish from local fishermen as part of a meet and greet with fishing communities along Padang’s west coast.

While SBY and Megawati worked hard to convince the grassroots they are worth their salt, presidential hopeful Jusuf Kalla worked a room comprised of an entirely different echelon of society, discussing the importance of a free press with thousands of journalists in Jakarta.

Generals Prabowo Subianto and Wiranto and former central back governor Boediono will debate on issues of national identity tonight.

— Tina Carter, Trinity ’10

Elections in Indonesia: Capek Ya? (Are You Tired?)

As the world’s largest Muslim country prepares for its presidential elections, Teuku Faizasyah, spokesman for the Indonesian foreign ministry, congratulated Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Iranian people on their elections Monday, Indonesia’s Antara News reports.

“I congratulate the people of Iran for the successful implementation of the democratic elections, although there are some people who are not satisfied,” Faizasyah said.

Under Ahmadenijad’s first term, the nations strengthened bilateral cooperation in various sectors, including the economy. Faizasyah’s pronouncement clearly indicated Indonesia’s commitment to maintaining its partnership with Iran, no matter the political climate.

At present, Indonesia’s political climate is dwarfed by Iran’s current maelstrom. According to the Economist, April’s ballot-casting was marred by more than 1,000 reports of electoral violations, a claim that carried on, not surprisingly, without investigation, but “competent regional officials did well.”

The Democratic Party, to which President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono belongs, eclipsed the  37 other contenders and won the majority of the paliament’s 550 seats.

James Castle told CNN that the Democratic Party owes its victory to “Yudyohono’s ‘charming’ personality, and his government’s ability to weather the current worldwide financial downturn.”

The latter proved key in the Party’s dominance in these elections. Analysts attributed the economic resilience of Yudhoyono’s government to the stunting of the Islamic clusters, which lost 9.5 percent of their previous electoral support.

It is with this prioritizing of economic concerns above religious ones that have kept and will keep an Islamist from claiming victory in the presidential elections July 8.

According to Soegeng Sarjadi Syndicate, Yudhayongo will collect 52.5 percent of the popular vote, followed by Sukarnoputri and Kalla.

If none of the candidates amass at least 50 percent of the vote, a run-off will be held between the two leading contenders.

According to TimesOnline of the United Kingdom, Sukarnoputri has chosen to run with Prabowo Subianto, a war criminal under late dictator Suharto.

Subianto was a luitenent-general and special forces commander in the 1990s who epitomized the violence and nepotism associated with the regime.

Last week, human rights groups and activists condemned him in Jakarta and East Timor, but Subianto has denied the allegations. Times reports,

He served four tours of duty in East Timor, where Indonesian occupation forces were accused of war crimes including torture, rape and murder. In the last years of the Suharto regime, special units under his command were blamed for abductions and disappearances of pro-democracy activists.

The Indonesian media reported widespread rumours that he organised mobs to loot, burn, kill and rape throughout Jakarta’s Chinatown in 1998 in an attempt to sow chaos and pave the way for a coup.

After Suharto stepped down, Prabowo was accused of threatening the new president, B J Habibie, by deploying his commandos around the palace.

Prabowo went into exile but has made a comeback thanks to a multi-million-dollar advertising campaign funded by his brother, a tycoon.

Analysts predict that the election of Megawati will strengthen Subianto, whom they perceive to be the stronger and more effective of the two.

In conjunction with aggressive campaigning at home, Yudhayongo began talks with President Obama at the G20 Summit in April, prompting the President to schedule a visit to Jakarta later this year.

President Obama told Yudhoyono in a 10-minute phone conversation in March that he wanted to build “a comprehensive partnership” between the two countries,” The Jakarta Post reports.

Indonesians hope that both the partnership and the visit will be more than a sentimental nod to Obama’s boyhood, and will bear fruits such as developmental assistance, reports Asia Times.

Although the country’s economy grew by 6.1% in 2008, Indonesia, like the rest of the world, is  suffering from the recession, and the $6 billion stimulus package approved by Yudhayongo has yet to budge the downturned economy.

Indonesia requires strong partners in the trembling global economy, be it Iran or the United States, and its post-electoral leader will determine the scope and direction of the loyalties reciprocated.

— Tina Carter, ’10

Relieving the Green Veil

In light of Barack Obama’s recent speech to the Muslim world, many hoped that the U.S. president’s overtures could charm the Islamic Republic of Iran away from the hard-line  incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinjad and towards his reformist rival Mir Hussein Mousavi.

Two weeks into the three week campaign, Mousavi captivated the attention of Western media and drew tens of thousands to his rallies. Represented by the color green, Mousavi came to represent normalized relations with the West and a renewed attention to the interests of women, youth, and the country’s intellectuals. Some even called the election furor that accompanied his ascent the “Green Revolution,” a reference to the political shakeups in post-communist nations, such as the “Orange Revolution” of Ukraine.

At the end of Iran’s  campaign race Wednesday, it seemed possible that the former prime minister could trump Ahmadinejad in the Friday elections. At the tail-end of last week, opposition leaders cited polls that put Mousavi in the lead.

Yet, when the ballots were counted Friday, the green veil was lifted by Ahmadinejad’s landslide victory. According to the Ministry of the Interior, the incumbent president won 62.6 percent of the vote with Mousavi taking just under 34.6 percent, the New York Times reports.

The results, which came merely two hours after polls closed, did not only upset Mousavi, who defiantly declared his own victory Friday night, but it shocked those who banked on the “Obama effect.”

Politico reports,

Though his backing of Iran’s nuclear program differed little from Ahamdinejad’s, the tone of Mousavi’s campaign, and the impression of a broad stirring for change led by the country’s youth, organized online and by text messages, seemed to echo Obama’s own victory and to respond to the promises of engagement in Obama’s recent speech in Cairo….

In symbolism that will be particularly resonant for Obama’s American supporters, the Iranian regime reportedly shut down text messaging services and opposition websites on election day, and internet connections

nationwide were running at sub-dial-up speeds. And the result leaves Obama with the renewed choice of a more difficult engagement with an even more discredited Ahmadinejad; or a return to the policies of isolation that the American president has denounced.

American observers from Obama on down appeared to see great potential in Mousavi’s ascension, and to see signs of a broad regional shift that began with the election of a pro-American government in Lebanon last month.

After the speech that I made in Cairo, we tried to send a clear message that we think there’s the possibility of change, and, you know, ultimately the election is for the Iranians to decide,” Obama said Friday. “But just as has been true in Lebanon, what can be true in Iran as well, is that you’re seeing people looking at new possibilities.

Disillusionment with the results has run so deeply that acrimonious protests have engulfed Iran. Several thousands have taken to the streets in defiance of Ahmadenijad and Ayatollah Khamanei, both of whom appeared on television Saturday urging the public to accept the final count.

The struggle on the Iranian street is fueled further by Mousavi’s absence from the public eye. According to the Times of India, Mousavi was barred from appearing before the Interior Ministry and from addressing a press conference Saturday. It is rumored that he is under house arrest.

Zahra Rahnavard, Moussavi’s wife and a respected academic, gave a speech at Tehran University Sunday in which she confirmed Moussavi’s ongoing contestation of the elections and called his supporters to protest in 20 Iranian cities June 15th.

Mousavi’s website currently hosts a letter in which the opposition leader implores Iran’s Guardian Council to overturn the election results and to allow permits for protest.

Despite the post-election fervor that grips Tehran, the Obama administration is handling the news with gentility and reticence. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibb’s statement, as reported by Politico, is the best example of this.

Like the rest of the world, we were impressed by the vigorous debate and enthusiasm that this election generated, particularly among young Iranians. We continue to monitor the entire situation closely, including reports of irregularities.

Even Joe Bidden, a man known for speaking in a forthright fashion, told Meet the Press that validity of Friday’s elections may be suspect, but from the point of view of United States foreign policy, little has changed.

“Our interests are the same before the election as after the election, and that is, we want them to cease and desist from handling a nuclear weapon and having one in its possession, and secondly, to stop supporting terror. That’s why we’ve joined with the so-called P5-plus-1…. And if there are talks… it’s something that’s going to be done with a regime, not with a person.”

Implications of the Israeli Election for George Mitchell’s work

February 14, 2009 1 comment

His second day in office, President Obama appointed former senator George Mitchell as the American special envoy to the Middle East, indicating he wanted to make the region a top priority on his foreign agenda. But a perceivable shift to the right in Tuesday’s election results in Israel may hinder Obama’s hopes for a swift peace between Israel and Palestine, Griff Witte and Glenn Kessler report in The Washington Post. Aaron David Miller, former U.S. peace negotiator, puts it this way:

This is like hanging a “closed for the season” sign on any peacemaking for the next year or so.

Kessler and Witte write that although the results themselves remain incomplete, the anticipation that an Israeli government “uninterested in peace talks” will emerge to form a governing coalition is strong. The gains of the ultra-nationalist party Beiteinu and Israel’s right-wing Likud party don’t seem to bode well for Obama’s immediate agenda.

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