The world’s largest Muslim nation went to the polls on Monday in its first ever direct elections for President, in a difficult climate. The three main candidates were incumbent President Megawati Sukarnoputri (the daughter of Indonesia’s founding President), General Wiranto, the candidate of the Golkar Party, which was the political vehical of long serving President Suharto, and also General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a late entrant who had been President Sukarnoputri’s Minister for Security until he resigned earlier this year.
It is hard to tell what the actual issues in the campaign were. To grossly oversimplify, President Megawati Sukarnoputri is offering more of the same corrupt, inept and incoherent governance, while General Wiranto seemed to be campaigning on a platform of corrupt, inept and repressive governance. General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s platform of trying to have somewhat less corruption and incoherence in government has proved to be more popular, although not popular enough to get an absolute majority.
So what happens now is that General Yudhoyono and the second placed candidate will fight another run-off election on September 20.
What is really pleasing from a western point of view is that it has been an orderly and fair election, and also, Islamic fundamentalism is not a big issue in Indonesian politics. In a nation of this size, there’s always going to be the extremist fringe, but this election helps demonstrate that extremism is not a vote-winner in Indonesia. As an Australian, I personally am relieved to see this.