In the 11 months since he took office, Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono often seemed to have a magic touch.
He successfully handled the massive tsunami emergency in Aceh, used the carnage to push through a peace deal with the province's separatist rebels, and has followed through on promises to fight endemic corruption in the country.
But skyrocketing oil prices and a plunge in the currency's value has triggered the first significant public disquiet against Yudhoyono and finally given his opponents issues that are gaining traction.
Enemies who have had little to criticize Yudhoyono for say he has done too little, too slowly to respond to the woes and warn the country could be headed toward a full-fledged economic crisis.
The rupiah has fallen 11 percent this year against the US dollar to its lowest level in four years, and fuel subsidies that keep gasoline prices low while the world oil prices soar are bleeding government coffers.
Yudhoyono has acknowledged that the subsidies must be reduced, but top-level meetings this week produced no concrete measures to address the economic problems.
A recent survey found that 44 percent of Indonesians are unhappy with the government's economic management, and analysts are laying the blame directly at Yudhoyono's feet.
"Everything the president has done so far has turned out to be a dud," the Jakarta Post, the country's main English-language daily, said this week in an unusually blunt editorial. "Despite his very presidential public persona, we must remind the president that leadership is action."
In a speech on Wednesday, Yudhoyono promised that subsidies that keep fuel prices at about US$0.24 a liter would be cut. But he failed to set a timetable, saying only that the cuts would come later this year after policies were in place to protect the poor from price rises.
The currency and stock markets reacted poorly. Markets were closed yesterday for a national holiday.
"The speech by President Yudhoyono was disappointing," JP Morgan said in a statement. "It failed to deliver any sort of credible message on cutting back fiscal fuel subsidies."
Standard & Poor's credit analyst Agost Benard said Friday that for the past year the government's response to falls in the rupiah's value "have tended to be slow, reactive, and incremental" and warned they could lead to broader economic problems.
"The inability to craft and implement appropriate policy measures leaves fiscal and external balances exposed," Benard said. "This could ultimately threaten to undo the macroeconomic stability achieved in recent years."
Yudhoyono's spokesman, Andi Alfian Mallarangeng, insisted yesterday his boss had "shown good leadership" this week and welcomed the criticism as part of the country's transition to democracy.
"He is a leader of  million people," Mallarangeng said. "He has to make sure reducing the subsidy will not hurt them. He will increase fuel prices but he just wants to make sure they compensation scheme is ready."
Yudhoyono swept to power last October with promises to revive the economy and end corruption.
His hands-on approach and clean image turned the staid former army general into one of Indonesia's most popular presidents.
Unlike predecessors the aloof Megawati Sukarnoputri and erratic Abdurrahman Wahid, Yudhoyono showed himself to be politically astute -- mingling with Indonesia's masses of poor and responding quickly to Asian tsunami that killed 131,000 people in Aceh with comforting words and visits to the province.
He used his popularity in March to weather opposition to a 29 percent fuel price increase and the Aceh peace deal was struck despite the misgivings of nationalist legislators.
The currency problems appeared to catch the government flat footed. Yudhoyono and senior ministers initially tried to bring stability to the markets by repeatedly suggesting the economy was fundamentally strong. It didn't work.
The response echoed that of dictator Suharto's when the Asian financial crisis erupted in 1997, shattering Indonesia's economy and eventually bringing down Suharto.
also see story:
Oil prices ease as US facilities recover
LIFE GOES ON: After a strict lockdown that left millions on the brink of starvation, Indians embrace work to avoid starvation and get ready for several major festivals India is on course to top the world in COVID-19 cases, but from Maharashtra’s whirring factories to Kolkata’s thronging markets, people are back at work — and eager to forget the pandemic for festival season. After a strict lockdown in March that left millions on the brink of starvation, the government and people of the world’s second-most populous country decided life must go on. Sonali Dange, for instance, has two young daughters and an elderly mother-in-law to look after. She was hospitalized this year in excruciating pain after catching the novel coronavirus. However, after the lockdown exhausted the family’s savings, the 29-year-old had
A COVID-19 outbreak among hundreds of Russian and Ukrainian fishers flown to New Zealand to bolster its struggling deep-sea fishing industry has prompted that country’s largest daily increase in infections in months, authorities said yesterday. More than 230 fishers were flown in from Moscow last week, with 18 of the crew members then testing positive for COVID-19 while in quarantine, New Zealand Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said. The Pacific nation has almost eliminated local transmission of the virus, but regularly records small numbers of new cases in returned travelers. The fishing cluster pushed the daily tally of new infections to 25,
From monitoring vital signs to filtering filthy air and even translating speech into other languages, the COVID-19-fueled boom in mask-wearing has spawned an unusual range of high-tech face coverings. As masks become the norm worldwide, tech companies and researchers are rolling out weird and wonderful models to guard against infection and cash in on a growing trend. One of the wackiest comes from Japan, where start-up Donut Robotics has created a face covering that helps users adhere to social distancing and also acts as a translator. The “C-Face” mask works by transmitting a wearer’s speech to a smartphone via an app, and allows
JAPAN Deer-edible bags invented The deer that roam Nara no longer face discomfort — or far worse — after local firms developed a safe alternative to the plastic packaging discarded by tourists that often ended up in the animals’ stomachs. Last year, several of the 1,300 deer that wander around the ancient capital’s central park were found dead after swallowing plastic bags and food wrappers. Firms collaborated to develop bags that pass safely through the animals’ complex digestive system. The bags are made with recycled pulp from milk cartons and rice bran, one of the main ingredients of the shika senbei savory