Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, heading for a sweeping re-election victory, is a retired four-star general who rose through the ranks of the former dictatorship yet has recorded his own albums of romantic ballads.
Critics call Yudhoyono indecisive, but he has cultivated an image as a tough and dedicated corruption fighter with high moral integrity. He also ushered in an era of financial and political stability, ending a series of secessionist conflicts and restoring economic growth after the devastating Asian financial crisis in 1997-1998 wiped out millions of jobs.
Yudhoyono, 59, the nation’s first directly elected leader, gained widespread praise for a crackdown on Islamic militants after a series of suicide bombings killed 240 people.
Sometimes called “the thinking general,” friends say he is a solitary and well-read man with a sharp intellect.
But some analysts say Yudhoyono is slow to make decisions.
“Everyone knows he is an indecisive leader,” said Satya Arinanto, a political professor at the University of Indonesia.
With a strong mandate from the public, however, “there will be no more excuse for him to hesitate,” he said.
During an otherwise dull campaign period before Wednesday’s vote, Yudhoyono came out last week as a believer of Javanese mysticism, saying his family had prayed to repel attacks from opponents.
“In this period of campaigning, there are many people out there who use black magic,” he was quoted by local media as telling an Islamic prayer session at his home. “Thankfully we got to our destination safely.”
Dino Patti Jalal, a close aide and presidential spokesman, defended Yudhoyono’s governing style in a new book, We Can! He describes the head of state as “a troubleshooter” who carefully listens to staff, has a keen memory for detail and prefers action over words.
One of the greatest challenges for Yudhoyono came in the first year of his presidency when the 2004 Asian tsunami killed 130,000 people and displaced half a million more in Aceh province.
Foreign governments said he effectively managed one of the largest donor programs in history and then forged peace with rebels in the province in the wake of the disaster.
Yudhoyono, whose father was an army lieutenant, graduated from the national military academy at age 24 at the top of his class. He has a master’s degree in management from Webster University in St Louis, Missouri. He received military training at Ft Benning, Georgia, and Ft Leavenworth, Kansas.
During later deployments to the former Indonesian territory of East Timor, where around 174,000 Timorese died as a result of Indonesian military operations, Yudhoyono headed a battalion of soldiers.
His name has been mentioned by opponents in connection with atrocities, but there have never been trials for past military rights abuses and no evidence has ever been presented linking him to wrongdoing.
It was his reputation for integrity and respect for human rights that led to his appointment in 1995 as a top military observer with the UN peacekeeping force in Bosnia, where he headed a contingent of Indonesian soldiers.
As Indonesia entered a period of instability at the end of the 32-year Suharto dictatorship in the late 1990s, Yudhoyono continued to climb the military ladder.
Joining the first post-Suharto government as mining minister, he quickly rose to the prominent post of security and political affairs minister. His resignation after a political spat over the country’s future with the president earned him public support and he handily won the 2004 presidency.
Married with two sons, the president has released several albums featuring his own love songs, some of them now covered by Indonesian boy bands and sold in record stores.
They “express my feelings and thoughts as president and an ordinary human being,” he said on his Web site.
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