Yudhoyono's Popularity May Boost Party Gains in Indonesia Vote By Leony Aurora and Arijit Ghosh
April 8 (Bloomberg) -- Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's 70 percent personal approval rating is his Democrat Party's strongest asset as it enters the election season seeking to boost its rank as the fifth-largest party in parliament. Polls show the Democrats may more than double their seats in tomorrow's legislative election, building momentum for the presidential contest in July. Since taking power in 2004, Yudhoyono has helped stabilize the economy and reduce terrorism in Indonesia, home to the world's largest Muslim population. Parliamentary gains would lessen Yudhoyono's need for coalition partners, who have blocked some of his moves to combat prevent an economic slowdown. They would also strengthen his hand against opposition leader Megawati Soekarnoputri, whom he defeated in 2004, and against another potential opponent, Vice President Jusuf Kalla, head of the Golkar party in the governing coalition. Yudhoyono "would be by far the dominant figure, which he was not when he won the elections in 2004," said R. William Liddle, a professor of politics at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, who has written on Indonesian politics for four decades. "He will have to pay a lot less attention to coalition-building." The president's handling of security issues and the economy has helped his popularity. Indonesia has been free of terrorism for 3 1/2 years, following attacks in the previous five years that killed 280 people. National Security The number of Indonesians who consider national security "bad" declined to 10 percent in December 2008 from 18 percent in September 2005, according to a poll taken by the Indonesian Survey Institute and published in January. A February poll by the Jakarta-based institute showed about half of the 2,455 respondents wanted Yudhoyono, 59, back as president after he reduced gasoline prices three times in three months. That was up from 25 percent in June, a month after the government had increased fuel prices by about 30 percent. Indonesia's economy expanded 6.3 percent in 2007, the fastest pace in 11 years. The number of poor in Asia's third- most populous nation fell to 15.4 percent of the population in March 2008 from 16.7 percent five years ago. Still, the Asian Development Bank forecasts that Indonesia's $433 billion economy will grow by only 3.6 percent in 2009. The eight-year-old Democrat Party, formed to give Yudhoyono a base, was favored by 24 percent of respondents in the institute's survey. Kalla's Golkar party was ranked third with 14.3 percent. Young Party The Democrats fielded candidates for parliament for the first time in 2004 and won about 10 percent of the seats. Kalla's Golkar party, which got 23 percent, is 45 years old. Yudhoyono and his coalition partners, including Golkar, haven't always agreed on policy. In December, Golkar's opposition kept Indonesia's parliament from ratifying a regulation giving the government more power to use state funds to rescue banks, insurers and other financial institutions. The party said the bill gave the central bank and the government too much authority. "I, as head of the government, feel this kind of coalition is a bit troubling," Yudhoyono said in an interview with Jurnal Nasional on Feb. 19 that was also published on Yudhoyono's Web site. "Coalition ethics as I understand it means the political parties that have representatives in the cabinet shouldn't cause government policies to fail." Candidates Rejected In March 2008, the parliament rejected two candidates proposed by Yudhoyono to replace then-central bank Governor Burhanuddin Abdullah. The government has said it may add to its 71.3 trillion rupiah ($6.2 billion) stimulus package to help the economy expand. Parliamentary approval for the package will be needed. The Democrat party would need an additional 55 seats in addition to its current 57 lawmakers to be able to independently nominate Yudhoyono for re-election. The party is fielding 671 candidates, the most among the 38 parties. Yudhoyono's popularity hasn't fallen below that of opposition leader Megawati since September 2006 and remains higher than Kalla's, according to the survey institute. James Castle, president of CastleAsia, a business advisory services company, cited the surveys for his confidence in Yudhoyono's re-election later this year even if Kalla opposed rather than accompanies him. "I think he will win" no matter who is vice president, said Jakarta-based Castle, who has lived in Indonesia for 32 years. "In a tight race the vice president might make a difference, but I don't see it in this one."