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Decoding Indonesia's election

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

The country’s problems, however, remain numerous. More than 100 million people still live below the poverty line, a separatist movement still brews in resource-rich Papua, infrastructure across the country’s 17,000 islands is laughable, and any gains made against corruption are under threat from a disinterested parliament.

Kalla’s campaign slogan had been the suggestive “Faster and Better,” a reference to complaints that Yudhoyono’s reforms, however noble, progressed too slowly in his first term. Few would disagree, but most would blame the president’s lack of a mandate rather than his lack of will.

The new president was forced to appoint numerous political and business leaders to his cabinet in exchange for their support during the 2004 election. Many, in fact, would blame the presence of Kalla as vice president — who is a leading figure of Golkar, the old political vehicle of Suharto — for holding things up.

Critics say that if Yudhoyono wants to increase the pace of reform, he’ll have to avoid such debilitating politics. There are early indications that he plans to do just that.

Probably sensing his popularity, Yudhoyono added Boediono, a highly respected technocrat and economist with no party affiliations, to his ticket this time around. The president’s choice of another academic economist, Sri Mulyani, as his finance minister during his first term launched the massive revamping of the tax and customs offices, which was encouraging to foreign investors. Now, she looks poised to move to Bank Indonesia to do the same thing there.

And without a third election to worry about (like in the United States, Indonesian presidents are limited to two terms), Yudhoyono seems well positioned to accomplish more of the same, except this time, he’ll have the independence to do it faster and better.

“I am calling this SBY: Part 2. Like 'Star Trek: Part 4,' there will be a whole new cast,” said Wimar Witoelar, a prominent political analyst and former presidential spokesman. “When he chose Boediono that was the moment of truth for me.”

Most importantly, however, oberservers say that Yudhoyono and whatever team he puts together will have to ensure that this democracy — which has so far been embraced by the Indonesian public — continues to strengthen in the years to come.

“This is the time when people must really begin to feel that democracy is a good thing,” Witoelar said. “This next term will be about establishing the long-term presence of democracy in Indonesia.”

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