Popular Wisdom

Popular Wisdom

The elections allowed Indonesians, for the first time, to choose their president directly. The man they selected, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a liberal ex-general, was deemed by international observers to have been the wisest choice from those on offer. Though the speculation about possible presidential candidates and governing coalitions has already begun, the parties will wait and see how they do in the legislative elections in April before entering into serious talks about the presidential vote (whose first round will be in July with a run-off, if needed, a few months later).

Even so, it is quite likely that the two main presidential contenders will be the same as last time: Mr Yudhoyono and his immediate predecessor, Megawati Sukarnoputri. Mr Yudhoyono’s popularity has been dented by decisions to cut fuel and electricity subsidies, so as to avert financial ruin and redirect state spending towards the poorest. Miss Megawati has been on a meet-the-people comeback tour since early 2008 and has benefited from discontent over rising living costs. Yet the election is Mr Yudhoyono’s to lose.

A few other candidates will run, probably including Wiranto, a former army chief indicted by a UN-backed tribunal over the violence that accompanied the break­away of the former East Timor in 1999. Mr Wiranto will argue that an old-fashioned strongman is what the country needs but it will be surprising if he does any better than the third place he got in 2004. Golkar, the party that used to support Suharto, is now led by Vice-President Jusuf Kalla but his opinion-poll ratings are probably too weak for him to win the presidency. Thus Golkar may, as in the second round in 2004, offer him for the vice-presidential slot on Mr Yudhoyono’s ticket.