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Decoding Indonesia's election

Analysis: For Indonesia, the dullness of the recent election was a good thing.

An election officer holds up a ballot paper on which presidential candidate and incumbent Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is chosen for re-election in Jakarta, July 8, 2009. (Beawiharta/Reuters)

JAKARTA — Indonesia’s second-ever direct presidential election, a major test for its still-evolving democracy, has commonly been described as dull. And that’s a good thing.

With the exception of complaints of bloated and fraudulent voter lists from the opposition, the elections passed peacefully and without incident. Incumbent President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a reform-minded former general, was re-elected in one round with an impressive, though not surprising, 60 percent of the vote, according to a quick count released hours after the polls closed, but which is considered accurate.

His two challengers — Yusuf Kalla, his current vice president who will have to remain as such until October, and Megawati Sukarnoputri, a former president whom Yudhoyono already defeated once before in 2004, during the country’s first-ever direct election — finished with about 13 and 27 percent of the vote respectively.

Only 10 years ago, the country was in a political and economic tailspin. The Asian Financial Crisis, coupled with the institutionalized corruption made popular by Suharto, the country’s kleptocrat for 30 years, laid waste to any economic gains the general had previously made. Suharto was ousted after massive riots and for years the country struggled to find a leader who could bring stability. Add the rise of Islamic terrorism, and Indonesia looked destined to become another Pakistan.

Yudhoyono is not the most exciting of leaders, but in five years he managed to stabilize Indonesia, which is now a shining example to its neighbors and the region’s most impressive success story.

“When talking about this campaign, the lopsided race concealed what was really a dynamic and interesting election race,” said Paul Rowland, regional representative of the National Democratic Institute in Jakarta. “There were very few international election monitors this time around, a sign that the country is moving in the right direction.”

Yudhoyono’s election campaign slogan translated to “Continuation,” or “More of the Same,” which, despite its arrogance, is what most Indonesians want to see. In his first term, Yudhoyono instituted major economic and bureaucratic reforms, threw his support behind the now powerful anti-corruption commission, crushed the threat of Islamic terrorism and ended a nearly 30-year civil war in the northern-most province of Aceh.