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A surprise choice? Dr Boediono is selected as SBY’s running mate

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In Brief

It’s all but official, yet still a surprise. Economic analyst, manager and academic, Dr Boediono, the current Central Bank Governor, has been named as President Yudhoyono’s choice of running mate for the first round of Presidential elections in July.

Some nine political parties have been jostling for influence in Indonesia’s emerging political make-up for 2009-2014. Many, especially in the main Muslim parties, would dearly have liked their leader to be selected by the popular President as the 'CA-WA-PRES', SBYs Vice Presidential running mate. In return, they would surely pledge their political support.

So why select a technocrat? Is SBY hankering for the bad old Soeharto days, when technocrats proposed and the President decided on policy, seemingly oblivious to social forces around him?


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The announcement has come after several weeks of intense speculation as to who would be chosen by SBY. Although the Democrats are expected to be the largest party in the new parliament, they will hold only around one quarter of all seats. SBY will need the support of several minor parties to govern effectively.

Why then select a seeming rank outsider to the political game, who might seem to offer little in terms of bolstering the stocks of the President in the parliament?

An obvious answer might be that it’s the economy, stupid. SBY expects the Indonesian people to find comfort in the selection of a highly regarded and experienced manager as their Vice President, in the context of the global economic crisis. Boediono could thus be expected to bolster SBY’s popularity in the Presidential race at a time of uncertainty, even if he contributed little to shoring up political support in the parliament.

Such an interpretation would suggest that SBY is thinking more about the short term advantage, rather than winning the longer term battle of pushing reform through the legislature.

But there is a catch. The Indonesian economy has been doing remarkably well, amidst the tumbling fortunes of its neighbours. Prices have actually fallen, including those of important staples, for several months in 2009. SBYs popularity is high precisely because of the seeming economic success of government policies (and a little bit of luck). One can also point to the impact that Boediono’s calm and steady leadership of Bank Indonesia has had on confidence in financial markets, during a difficult time.

So why change a winning formula? Perhaps the answer to the puzzle lies in two other key areas, rather than in the economic credentials that Boediono brings to the Presidential ticket. The first relates to the role that the current Vice President, Jusuf Kalla, has had in policy making, and his relationship with SBY in the past five years.

While Kalla was often seen to be given a free reign in pushing key economic policy decisions (such as the oil price hike in 2005), his impetuous, can-do style, fashioned from years of experience as a businessman, is said to have grated with the President.

Further, not infrequently SBY was forced to share the limelight with his Vice President. And there was always a sense that the Vice President was ready to cut corners to get the job done, sometimes undermining the carefully crafted image of rules-based government projected by SBY.

Boediono could be expected to offer equally valuable advice on the economy. But he is likely to do so in a more measured fashion and away from the cameras, as he did for several years as the Economics Coordinating Minister. As many have been quick to point out, he has shown no sign of political ambition, which cannot be said of many other potential contenders for the Vice Presidency. And he is pronounced by all to be squeaky clean.

It is also worth pointing out that although Boediono is not a politician, he certainly does not appear politically naïve. He has laboured hard in selling the government’s economic policies to cocky and often self interested parliamentarians, since his elevation to Finance Minister in the Megawati government in 2001.

Second, selection of Vice-Presidential candidate from any one of the Muslim parties risked alienating the others. Representatives of all the Muslim parties (and especially those of PKS and PAN) have mouthed their disapproval of Boediono’s selection, rather than a choice of one of their own candidates. Nonetheless, if another Muslim party candidate had been chosen by SBY, one senses the disenchantment of the others would have been much deeper and politically harmful to the President’s would-be coalition with the Muslim parties. The case is different for a politically neutral candidate. It is less likely that any of the parties will risk being sidelined simply because their leader was passed over by SBY in his choice of a running mate.

Time will tell, in politics as well as in policy, whether the President has made the right choice. Selecting a reliable lieutenant with a similar cautious bent, another Javanese, might seem to go against the grain in Indonesian politics. But if he is elected for a final term, perhaps having a soul mate in the Palace will give SBY more leeway and greater confidence to take stronger stands on big policy issues, both nationally and internationally, in his second and last term in office.

Of course, he still has to be elected. But at the time of writing few political pundits are betting on the opposition teams.

Dr Boediono was a strong supporter of the establishment of EABER and launched it in Bandung Indonesia in 2005 when he was Minister for Coordinating Economic Affairs.

This article was originally published on ANU’s Indonesia Project blog, and may be found here.

4 responses to “A surprise choice? Dr Boediono is selected as SBY’s running mate”

  1. The choice of Boediono is indeed surprising. No matter how much he relied on technocrats, Soeharto never appointed one as his running-mate. No doubt we should be grateful that Yudhoyono at least didn’t turn to the reticent Admiral Widodo, a choice that would have recalled Soeharto’s selection on one occasion of the astonishingly obscure General Umar Wirahadikusumah. But Boediono is six years older than Yudhoyono, who will himself turn sixty in September. Should Yudhoyono be incapacitated or die during his second term (assuming his re-election), Indonesia will find it has a president no longer in the first blush of youth from whom more political skills will be demanded than simply the ability to explain economic policies to parliament.

  2. Soeharto indeed have appointed Habibie, whom is technocrat, as vice-president. So, this is not the first, if elected, to hold that position. But, I agree that a non-politician vice-president is kinda risky and seems not suitable. Afterall, SBY must prepare the next election in 2014, when he can’t join the bid for another presidency election. If, the vice-president chosen from coallition party, he/she can becomes an incumbent candidate for the next election, which has greater chance to win. It’s too bad for the democrats.

  3. I think another consideration for SBY in choosing Boediono is that he doesn’t pose any kind of threat to whatever succession plans that the president might have. I suspect that SBY thought very seriously about Hatta Rajasa as vice-president and they have had an excellent relationship since the latter took over as state secretary. But having Hatta as his partner would have boosted PAN (assuming Hatta stayed with this party) and lessened the prospects for SBY’s PD.
    All up though, I think SBY has gotten most of what he has wanted. The Islamic parties have been made to eat humble pie and accept Boediono, and now we wait to see if they have any more success at demanding seats in cabinet. So far, they have had little to be boastful about.

  4. I have posted my comment on the Indonesia Project blog as well, and it’s there that I brought up there the case of Habibie. Perhaps I should have made the same point here, as Sony suggests. Attitudes to economic policy-making aside, what is different in Habibie’s case is that he had a long political career before becoming V-P. He was very active in Golkar and may perhaps deserve the title of ‘founder of ICMI’, although that baby was claimed by many parents. It may well be that Boediono will acquire broader political skills during his tenure, but I think he is relatively untried now. After Clinton’s visit to Jakarta, it occurred to me that SBY might put extra effort in the US relationship this year, and it is quite possible that the choice of Boediono was in part motivated by SBY’s wanting to have another face very presentable to Obama, apart from his own.

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