Where is Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono when you need him? Just ask him about the events that are challenging Indonesia’s burgeoning democracy, and he will scurry back to the presidential palace, or find a suitable fence to sit on.

Indonesians all over the country have taken to the streets today, the one-year anniversary of Yudhoyono’s inauguration, not for something the president has done, but for everything he hasn’t done.

The National Police recently issued a regulation allowing officers to fire live ammunition at rallies, but protestors are so disappointed with their president’s lacklustre second term, the prospect of getting shot with explosives is not enough to keep them away.

As Indonesia’s first directly elected president, Yudhoyono’s initial term offered the fledgling democracy hope of political stability and prosperity. Promises to fight corruption and strengthen the economy won Yudhoyono the presidency in 2004, and having delivered on both counts, the president won a landslide re-election in 2009.

But Yudhoyono’s second term could not stand in starker contrast to his glorious first. The president became an elusive figure in the first 100 days this time round as his government began to sink in scandal.

Most markedly was the 6.7 trillion-rupiah ($758.7 million) bailout of the relatively small Bank Century. Allegations that millions of dollars had been channelled to Yudhoyono’s campaign coffers led to demands of his impeachment. Instead, the scandal culminated in the ousting of Indonesia’s star finance minister, Sri Mulyani Indrawati, whose hard line on graft and tax evasion made her Indonesia’s leading reformist. It also made her many powerful enemies.

Yudhoyono did nothing to defend his most valuable minister and he lost the backbone of his cabinet — Mulyani took a much more lucrative post in Washington D.C. as the World Bank’s managing director. Somehow, he had lost control of his government.

Earlier in the same 100 days, Yudhoyono made an inexplicable about-face when Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) came under threat. The KPK during Yudhoyono’s first term was Indonesia’s most successful graft-fighting instrument, putting some of the country’s most senior officials behind bars. It became a sturdy platform for Yudhoyono’s second presidential campaign.

Yet last September, when police with little evidence arrested two KPK commissioners, Bibit Samad Rianto and Chandra M Hamzah, for allegedly accepting bribes to drop a high-profile KPK investigation, Yudhoyono seemed to have lost his zest for fighting corruption.

Within weeks, the National Police suspiciously changed the bribery charge to extortion. Despite the public outcry online and on the street, it took more than a month for Yudhoyono to intervene and set up an investigative team.

More recently, Yudhoyono’s silence has spoken volumes after a string of attacks by Islamic fundamentalists on Christians and followers of the outcast Islamic sect Ahmadiyah.

More than 30 attacks on churches, including church burnings, have been reported in Indonesia this year. One church elder was recently stabbed in the heart and stomach.

Vice President Boediono boldly called on the country’s “silent majority” on the weekend to take a stand against growing radicalism, leaving Indonesians disappointed that their president never had the gall to make such a statement.

Yudhoyono does not want to provoke extremists like the vigilante Islamic Defenders Front (FPI). Not only has he failed to control the group, this week he appointed a known FPI supporter, Timur Pradopo, as the nation’s new chief of police.

By giving extremists and bullies run of the shop, Yudhoyono is giving reason for Indonesians to doubt his commitment to democracy. Indonesians are certainly not happy with their president, and one year since they re-elected him, they protest his silence with a lot of noise.

Peter Fray

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