SBY urges Indonesians to look at party's record

With five days left in the general election campaign, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono reminded voters yesterday at a rally in Palembang, South Sumatra, that a Democratic Party-led government was about "proof, not promises".

The slogan has been on party banners in recent days, and Dr Yudhoyono said that although his administration had rolled out national schemes such as free health care and education for the poor, there were still many who felt his government was no good.

"Let them bad-mouth the Democrats, bad-mouth SBY," he said, using the initials by which many call him.

"Let it be, people do not like such behaviour, when in fact we have been working hard day and night," he added, urging thousands at an open plaza not to change what has worked for the sake of change.

Dr Yudhoyono's remarks echoed comments he has made on trips across the country in recent days.

They are aimed at shoring up votes for a party battered by graft scandals involving top leaders, so that the Democrats can retain at least a decent number of seats in next Wednesday's general election, and hopefully have a shot at fielding a presidential or vice-presidential contender in the July 9 presidential vote.

While the crowd seemed receptive yesterday, the mood was akin to that of a farewell concert, with the musically inclined President belting out the hit Rumah Kita (Our House) during a break between his remarks.

Dr Yudhoyono, who has served two terms and cannot stand again by law, is still banking on his relative popularity as President to campaign for his party. He also tossed several balls into the audience, an act the party has put on at rallies to bond with the crowds.

"Our house is the Democratic Party, our house is Indonesia," he sang, as his men held up house-shaped cardboard signs with the Democrats logo and "I love SBY".

The symbolism was intentional: Observers say the Democrats want to position themselves as the home of "middle-ground Indonesia" - distinct from the nationalist rhetoric of the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) of former president Megawati Sukarnoputri and Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo; the nostalgic yearnings of the Golkar party of former president Suharto, which has been invoking the stability of his New Order in its campaign; and the religious orientation of Muslim-based parties.

Yet most recent opinion polls indicate the Democrats could get well below 10 per cent of the popular vote, a sharp drop from 21 per cent in 2009 when Dr Yudhoyono was re-elected with 60 per cent of votes.

Despite the blow that many of the party's MPs appear resigned to, observers say the President is still going all out to stress his administration's track record.

Political scientist Djayadi Hanan says the final days of campaigning can make a difference, noting that the Democrats' campaigning has been getting more intense.

"They are waiting for the others to tyre themselves out before they attack," he told The Straits Times.

The party has also held an ongoing convention with 11 participants to select the best person for a shot at the presidency, with the winner expected to be declared after April 9. Front runners include State-owned Enterprises Minister Dahlan Iskan and Dr Yudhoyono's brother-in-law, former army chief Pramono Edhie Wibowo.

Dr Yudhoyono said on Twitter yesterday he was confident the election would be orderly, in a sign that Indonesia's democracy was on the right track.

"Participants of the legislative and presidential election have to 'be ready to win, ready to lose'," he posted. "Those who win should be gracious, those who lose need not run amok."

At a Cabinet meeting before leaving for Palembang, he hit out at claims from several parties in recent days that the vote count would likely be rigged.

"The election has not started, but it's as if there's a verdict already... I think we are going ahead of the will of God," he said.

zakirh@sph.com.sg

This article was published on April 2 in The Straits Times.

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