JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia’s outgoing president returned home early on Tuesday, cutting short an overseas farewell tour to try and overturn legislation ending direct elections for local leaders.
Widely praised for fostering a thriving democracy in his 10 years in office, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s legacy, already tainted by a series of graft scandals, has taken a further hit after his ruling party failed to prevent the bill from passing in parliament.
Stocks have come under pressure and the rupiah has tumbled to a seven-month low following parliament’s action, which president-elect Joko Widodo criticised as a major step backwards for democracy.
Yudhoyono will hand over power on Oct 20.
“We will strive to save direct regional elections and there is a plan B that we will finalise later today. Our interest is only that our democracy remains for our people,” Yudhoyono told reporters after landing back in Jakarta from a near two-week long trip to Portugal, the United States and Japan.
Indonesia introduced direct elections for regional leaders in 2005, allowing the emergence of a new breed of politician free of links to the political elite, with Widodo being the best-known example.
But direct elections in Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy and the world’s third largest democracy, have also proven to be costly, and in many cases, corrupt.
Before leaving for his trip, Yudhoyono spoke out in favour of retaining direct elections and the bill looked destined to be rejected.