SUSILO BAMBANG YUDHOYONO (PRESIDENT OF INDONESIA 2004-2014)

SUSILO BAMBANG YUDHOYONO

Yudhoyono was Indonesia’s sixth president overall, was the forth president after Suharto was ousted in 1998 and the first Indonesian president to be directly elected by the people. A retired U.S.-trained, four-star general who served under Suharto and was the security minister under Megawati, Yudhoyono abandoned Suharto after the 1998 Trisakti University shootings and later refused President Wahid’s order to declare a state of emergency in order to forestall his impeachment. Before the 2004 election Yudhoyono formed the small, independent Democrat Party (PD). After the election he steered Indonesia through the recovery after the devastating 2004 tsunami and made peace with the Aceh rebels.

Yudhoyono is known in Indonesia as SBY. Before the 2004 election he was well respected, regarded as competent and relatively untouched by corruption. Regarded as cool, stong and reliable, he played bass in a high school band and has written poetry about religion and nature. At the time he was elected he was pursuing a doctorate degree in agroeconomics at the nation’s leading agricultural university.

President Yudhoyono came to power after a successful career with the Indonesian National Army as a four-star general—where he was dubbed “the thinking general” for his efforts toward military reform. This reputation, and a pristine political career with the administrations of former Presidents Abdurrahman Wahid and Megawati Sukarnoputri are the basis upon which the Democratic Party was founded in 2001. This new political party was founded on Pancasila: five basic principles (belief in the Oneness of God, just and civilised humanity, the unity of Indonesia, democracy, and social justice) with the goal of launching Yudhoyono’s candidacy for the 2004 elections. Since then, he has become increasingly influential as a beacon of democracy in a country historically marred by corruption and political instability. He was re-elected for a second and final five-year term in October 2009. [Source: Library of Congress]

On the eve of the 2004 election, Paul Dillon of Aljazeera wrote: “Yudhoyono has consolidated his position as Indonesia's newest political phenomenon. The staunchly pro-US military officer, has surprisingly remodelled his taciturn law-and-order image to become a pop-tune singing man of the people.” At the end of his term in office as president, the BBC reported: Yudhoyono has made the fight against terrorism a key priority. He won Indonesia's first-ever direct presidential elections in September 2004, in what was hailed as the first peaceful transition of power in Indonesia's history. He was re-elected in July 2009 in a landslide victory on the back of improved security and strong growth in Southeast Asia's biggest economy. [Source: Paul Dillon, Aljazeera, July 4, 2004, BBC, April 8, 2014]

Yudhoyono’s Early Life

The only child of a retired, lower middle-class army officer, Bambang Yudhoyono was born in Tremas, a village in Arjosari, Pacitan Regency, East Java on September 9, 1949. His family were observant Muslims and a grandfather ran an Islamic boarding school. His name is Javanese, with Sanskrit roots. Susilo comes from the words su-, meaning good and -sila, meaning behaviour, conduct or moral. Bambang is a traditional boy name in Javanese, meaning knight. Yudhoyono comes from the words yuddha -meaning battle, fight; and yana, meaning journey. Thus his name roughly translates to `well behaved knight`. [Source: Wikipedia]

Yudhoyono had wanted to join the army since he was a child. In school, he developed a reputation as an academic achiever, excelling in writing poems, short stories, and play-acting. Yudhoyono was also talented in music and sport, reflected when he and his friends established a volleyball club called Klub Rajawali and a band called Gaya Teruna. When he was in fifth grade, Yudhoyono visited the Indonesian Armed Forces Academy (AKABRI). After seeing the soldiers training there and perhaps inspired by his own father's career, Yudhoyono became determined to join Indonesian Armed Forces and become a soldier. Yudhoyono planned to enlist after graduating from high school in 1968; however, he missed the registration period.

Yudhoyono then became a student of Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Sepuluh Nopember Institute of Technology (ITS) in Surabaya before entering the Vocational Education Development Center in Malang, East Java. There, he was able to prepare everything for the next phase of his education at Akabri. Yudhoyono officially entered AKABRI in 1970 after passing the test in Bandung. He graduated first in his class from the Military Academy in 1973 and rose steadily through the ranks. He received his fourth star in 2000. He served in East Timor.

Yudhoyono also studied in the United States, where he received his Masters degree in Management from Webster University in 1991. He subsequently earned his PhD in agricultural economics from the Bogor Agricultural University on 3 October 2004, two days before his presidential victory was announced. His dissertation is entitled "The Rural and Agricultural Development as an Effort to Alleviate Poverty and Unemployment: a political economic analysis of fiscal policy". He was also awarded with two honorary doctorates in 2005, respectively in the field of law from his alma mater, Webster University, and in political science from Thammasat University in Thailand. [Source: Indonesian government, Wikipedia]

Yudhoyono’s Family

Yudhoyono is said to be a devoted Moslem. He is married to Madam Ani Herrawati, daughter of Sarwo Edhie Wibowo, once commander of Indonesia's feared special forces, Kopassus. The couple have two sons. The oldest is First Lieutenant Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, who graduated top in his class from the Military Academy in 2000 and is now serving at the elite 305th Airborne Battalion of the Army Strategic Reserves Command (KOSTRAD). The youngest, Edhie Baskoro Yudhoyono, earned his degree in Economics from Curtin University, Australia.

The name Yudhoyono is not an inherited surname; most Javanese do not have surnames. Rather, he chose it for his military name-tag, and it is how he is referred to abroad. His children and grandchildren go by the name Yudhoyono, and in formal meetings and functions he is addressed as Dr. Yudhoyono. In Indonesia, he is referred to in some media as "Susilo" and is widely known as "SBY". [Source: Wikipedia]

Yudhoyono’s family residence is in Cikeas, Bogor. His wife holds a political science degree from Merdeka University, and was the first vice chairman of her husband's Democratic Party. She is the eldest child of General (Ret.) Sarwo Edhie Wibowo, one of Indonesia's high-profile generals. His eldest son, Major Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono (born 1978), is a holder of the Adhi Makayasa Medal like his father, continuing family tradition as the best graduate of the Military Academy. In July 2006, Agus graduated from the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, Singapore with a masters degree in strategic studies, and is currently studying at Harvard University. Yudhoyono gave a speech at Harvard Kennedy School in September 2009 and joked that his son became "another Harvard student working for" him – some of Yudhoyono's ministers and military generals also went to Harvard. He is married to Annisa Larasati Pohan, a fashion model and the daughter of a former Bank Indonesia vice-president. The couple's daughter and Yudhoyono's only grandchild, Almira Tunggadewi Yudhoyono, was born in August 2008. He is currently assigned as Operations Officer of 17th Airborne Infantry Battalion.

The family's younger son, Edhie Baskoro Yudhoyono (born 1982), received his bachelor degree in Economics from the Curtin University of Technology, in Perth, Western Australia and his Master Degree from the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, Singapore. In the 2009 general election, Edhie was elected as member of Parliament from the Democratic Party and currently sits as a member of Parliament's Commission 1 dealing with international affairs. He is married to Siti Aliya Radjasa, daughter of Hatta Rajasa, one of his father's prominent Cabinet Minister. They have one son, Airlangga Satriadhi Yudhoyono.

Yudhoyono’s Character and Music Career

Yudhoyono is a fluent English speaker, which over the years helped his military career. He received a master's degree and took several military training courses in the United States. The also led a led Indonesia's peacekeeping contingent in Bosnia in the 1990s. He has released several albums featuring his own love songs, some of them now covered by Indonesian boy bands.

"SBY, SBY, SBY, he's the only man for the job," a taxi driver told Al Jazeera before the 2004 election. "They're all crooks, but I think he is not the worst. He can bring us jobs and more money for the little people like me." At that surveys showed he was the most respected politician in Indonesia. But his personal popularity really took off after he resigned as security minister in March and his party did better than expected on the basis of his reputation as a "clean" candidate, untainted by scandal. In January 2010, he released a third album of romantic pop songs titled ‘I’m Certain I’ll Make It’. In a message on the album cover, Yudhoyono said that he liked to use his free time in between his “struggle to serve the country” to “express [his] feelings in the form of arts”. He has also become a regular ‘twitterer’ and has close to 4 million followers. [Source: Paul Dillon, Aljazeera, July 4, 2004]

According to Thomaswhite.com: “The colorful Indonesian leader, who is usually found dressed in dapper safari suits or neatly pressed silk batik shirts, is also a talented musician who has launched three pop record albums. He prides himself on communicating openly and being accessible to all, an exhilarating change for Indonesians who have been used to an authoritarian regime. Yudhoyono even boldly made his cellphone number public soon after he took over as President, to encourage the reporting of fraudulent activities. [Source: Thomaswhite.com]

In his youth Yudhoyono was a member of a band called Gaya Teruna. In 2007, he released his first music album entitled “My Longing for You,” a collection of love ballads and religious songs. The 10-song tracklist features some of the country's popular singers performing the songs. In 2009, he joined forces with Yockie Suryoprayogo under the name "Yockie and Susilo" releasing the album Evolusi. In 2010, he released a new third album entitled I'm Certain I'll Make It.” [Source: Wikipedia +]

After the release of his first album, CBC reported: “Taking a break from affairs of state, the president of Indonesia has explored affairs of the heart in a new album of pop songs released at a Jakarta gala. Following in the musical footsteps of world leaders like Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Indonesia's Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has released an album called Rinduku Padamu (My Longing for You). The 10-track album is filled with romantic ballads as well as songs about religion, friendship and patriotism. While some of the country's most popular singers take care of the vocals on the album, Yudhoyono penned the songs, which date back to his taking office in 2004. [Source: CBC, October 29, 2007]

“He described composing music as a way to relax from his presidential duties or something he does during long-haul flights around the world. One of the album's songs, for instance, was composed after leaving Sydney following the APEC formum there. "Music and culture could even be developed jointly as 'soft power' to be used in persuasive communication for the handling of problems, making it unnecessary to employ 'hard power,'" Yudhoyono said, according to Antara, Indonesia's national news agency. Chavez released an album of himself singing traditional Venezuelan folk music month earlier, while Berlusconi released two albums of love songs during his tenure.” [Ibid]

President Yudhoyono is a keen reader and has authored a number of books and articles including: “Transforming Indonesia: Selected International Speeches” (Special Staff of the President for International Affairs in co-operation with PT Buana Ilmu Populer, 2005); “Peace Deal with Aceh is Just a Beginning” (2005); “The Making of a Hero” (2005); “Revitalization of the Indonesian Economy: Business, Politics and Good Governance” (Brighten Press, 2004); and “Coping with the Crisis - Securing the Reform” (1999). Taman Kehidupan (Garden of Life) is his anthology published in 2004. [Source: Indonesian government, Wikipedia]

Yudhoyono Says He Believes in Witchcraft

In 2014, Vishal Arora wrote in the Washington Post, “Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono may be the first Indonesian president to acknowledge publicly he believes in witchcraft. In a recently published memoir, he describes a “horror movie” style encounter with black magic at his residence. “Suddenly, my wife screamed,” writes Yudhoyono in the 900-page book, “Selalu Ada Pilihan” (There is Always a Choice). “There was this thick dark cloud hovering beneath the ceiling, trying to enter my bedroom. I then asked everybody to pray to seek Allah’s help. I closed the door to my room but left others wide open. The revolving clouds eventually headed out of my house.” [Source: Vishal Arora, Washington Post, January 21, 2014 ||||]

“Yudhoyono lives in his private residence, not at the 19th-century presidential palace in Jakarta, which is considered haunted, Bayuni said. Only two presidents, Sukarno from 1945-1965 and Abdurrahman Wahid from 1999-2001, made the palace their residence. In September 2010, Yudhoyono skipped a meeting of the U.S. and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations held on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, partly because of “rumors of rampant witchcraft in the palace,” according to a WikiLeaks cable. ||||

“Yudhoyono believes in witchcraft, but perhaps only as a menace. His government last year proposed amendments to the 1918 Criminal Code, adding a clause that states using black magic to cause “someone’s illness, death, mental or physical suffering” is an offense with a punishment of up to five years in jail or 300 million rupiah ($25,000) in fines. ||||

Yudhoyono’s Military Career

Yudhoyono’s military training in the United States included at stint at the prestigious Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The only stains on his career were his involvement in the raid in Megawati’s party’s office in 1996 and his failure as security minister to find a solution to the conflict in Aceh. There are also some questions about the degree of his involvement in East Timor.

According to the Indonesian government: “Yudhoyono took an extensive range of training, education and courses, both in Indonesia and overseas. He also held numerous important posts and positions as troop and territorial commander, staff officer, trainer and lecturer. He served both in the field and at headquarters, as well as missions overseas. He was the Commander of the United Nations Military Observers and Commander of the Indonesian Military Contingent in Bosnia-Herzegovina from 1995-1996. For his outstanding service, President Yudhoyono was decorated with 24 medals and awards, including the UNPKF Medal, the Bintang Dharma, the Bintang Mahaputera Adipurna and the Bintang Republik Indonesia Adipurna, the highest national medal for excellent service beyond the calls of duty.Mr Yudhoyono also completed several tours of duty in the Indonesian-occupied East Timor.

Paul Dillon of Aljazeera wrote: “He was chief of staff of the Jakarta regional command, subordinate to the current city governor Sutiyoso, when a mob backed by security forces stormed the offices of the Indonesian Democratic party, at a time when it was chaired by Megawati. Five of her supporters died, 150 were injured and more than two dozen activists disappeared. Questions also remain about exactly what role he played in the coordinated destruction of East Timor. A career officer who married the daughter of a commander of a feared special forces unit, Yudhoyono has proven Teflon-coated when it comes to assigning blame. He was in East Timor in the mid-70s and early 80s in a command capacity during periods when Indonesian troops were accused of widespread human rights abuses. [Source: Paul Dillon, Aljazeera, July 4, 2004 <^>]

“In 1999, Yudhoyono moved into politics, serving briefly as mining minister before taking over the security portfolio. Since that time he has served administrations that looked the other way when thousands of young Javanese Islamist militants and foreign fighters entered a religious war between Christians and Muslims in Maluku province. In 2003, he approved the brutal year-long military operation against separatists in Aceh province in North Sumatra that has resulted in at least 2000 deaths. And he has done little to stem what human rights groups claim are systematic and widespread abuses in Papua.” <^>

Yudhoyono spent three years at Indonesian Armed Forces Academy (AKABRI) and became the Commander of the Cadet Corps Division there. He graduated from AKABRI as second lieutenant in 1973, and as the best graduate of the year, received the prestigious Adhi Makayasa medal from President Suharto. After graduating, Yudhoyono joined the Army Strategic Reserve (Kostrad) and became a platoon commander in the 330th Airborne Battalion. Aside from leading his troops, Yudhoyono was also tasked with giving the battalion soldiers lessons on general knowledge and English. Yudhoyono's proficiency in English was one of the reasons why he was sent to the United States to undertake the Airborne and Ranger Courses at Fort Benning in 1975. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Yudhoyono returned to Indonesia in 1976 where he became a platoon commander in the 305th Battalion and assigned to Indonesian-occupied East Timor. Yudhoyono had several tours of duty there and, like many other Indonesian officers involved in the occupation of East Timor, was accused of committing war crimes. However, Yudhoyono has never been charged with any specific act. From East Timor, Yudhoyono became a mortar platoon commander in 1977, an operations officer for an airborne brigade from 1977 to 1978, and a battalion commander at Kostrad from 1979 to 1981. Yudhoyono then spent 1981 and 1982 working at the Army headquarters. +

While working at the Army headquarters, Yudhoyono was sent to the United States again, this time to participate in the Infantry Officer Advanced Course at Fort Benning and in training with the 82nd Airborne Division. Yudhoyono also spent time in Panama and went through the jungle warfare school. When Yudhoyono returned in 1983, he was made Commander of the Infantry Trainers' School. It was not long before he was abroad again, this time to Belgium and West Germany, to undertake the Antitank weapons Course. In 1985, Yudhoyono also took a Battalion Commando Course in Malaysia. From 1986 to 1988, Yudhoyono served with Kodam IX/Udayana, which covers Bali and the Lesser Sunda Islands. Yudhoyono was a battalion commander from 1986 to 1988 and was part of the operational staff in 1988. In 1989, Yudhoyono became a lecturer at the Army Staff College (Seskoad) and delivered a presentation entitled "ABRI's Professionalism at the Present and in the Future". Together with Agus Wirahadikusumah, Yudhoyono published a book entitled "The Challenges of Development". +

Whilst at Seskoad, Yudhoyono also took the opportunity to further his own military education. He went to the US Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. While in the United States, he took the opportunity to obtain an MA degree in business management from Webster University in 1991. Yudhoyono had one more stint overseas when he became Indonesia's chief military observer of the United Nation Peacekeeping Force in Bosnia in 1995–96. +

Yudhoyono’s Political Career

Yudhoyono abandoned Suharto after the 1998 Trisakti University shootings, later refused then-President Wahid’s order to declare a state of emergency in order to forestall his impeachment, and went on to form the small, independent Democrat Party (PD).

During the days which would lead to Suharto's resignation in May 1998, Yudhoyono and pro-reform ABRI officers conducted meetings and discussions with Nurcholish Madjid, a secular pro-reform Muslim leader. From his discussions, Yudhoyono accepted the fact that Suharto should resign but like the ABRI officers who went to the meeting with him, was reluctant to withdraw their support of Suharto publicly, much less ask for Suharto's resignation. Nevertheless the pressure would eventually become too much for Suharto, who resigned on 21 May 1998.Wikipedia +]

As Indonesia entered the reform era, ABRI's popularity, because of its association with Suharto, was at an all time low. To de-emphasize ABRI's political role, Yudhoyono's Chief of Staff for social-political affairs was renamed chief of staff for territorial affairs and in 1999, ABRI was renamed TNI and the Indonesian National Police (Polri) was split off. At this time, Yudhoyono's popularity began to increase as he offered ideas and concepts to reform the military and nation. He did this by combining the strong reformist sentiment of the time with TNI's concern for security and stability. Because of his high education (finishing his doctorate during the course of the presidential elections) and his well planned maneuvers, Yudhoyono came to be known as "the thinking general".

Prior to being elected, President Yudhoyono held various important government positions, including Minister of Mining and Energy and Co-ordinating Minister for Political, Social, and Security Affairs in the National Unity Cabinet under President Abdurrahman Wahid. He again served as Co-ordinating Minister for Political, Social, and Security Affairs in the Gotong Royong Cabinet under President Megawati Sukarnoputri. It was in his capacity as Coordinating Minister that he became internationally recognized for leading Indonesia's counter-terrorism efforts. President Yudhoyono is also known for his activities in various civil society organizations. He served as Co-Chairman of the Governing Board of the Partnership for the Governance Reform, a joint Indonesian-international organization focused on the improvement of governance in Indonesia. He also served as Chairman of the Advisory Board of the Brighten Institute, an institution devoted to studying the theory and practice of national development policy. [Source: Indonesian government]

Yudhoyono in the Megawati Administration

Yudhoyono was appointed Minister for Mining and Energy in the short-lived administration of President Abdurrahman Wahid, who was succeeded in 2001 Megawati, President Sukarno’s daughter. According to The Times: He joined her Cabinet and was highly praised for the sensitive and effective way he handled the aftermath of the October 2002 Bali bombing that killed 202 people. After that he began to be seen as a possible president and resigned from the Cabinet to run for the office. [Source: Eric Ellis, The Times, November 8, 2004]

Yudhoyono was initially Megawati’s most powerful minister when she served as president in the early 2000s. He was in charge of the offensive in Aceh and combating terrorists. A few months before the 2004 general and presidential election Yudhoyono quit Megawati’s cabinet in a dispute over his presidential ambitions and allegations that he was excluded from cabinet meetings. After that Megawati failed to acknowledge Yudhoyono’s existence. Her husband called Yudhoyono “childish, ” which won Yudhoyono sympathy from the public. He followed that up by appearing in a black leather jacket on Indonesia’s version of American Idol and singing a popular hit song that won wild cheers.

Before the July presidential election, Paul Dillon of Aljazeera wrote: “Yudhoyono has 15 of his fellow veterans on his campaign team. The presence of so many retired soldiers has attracted its share of domestic criticism. Students, civil society and human rights groups who bore the brunt of the excesses committed by security forces during the turbulent days prior to Suharto's resignation have responded with hunger strikes and demonstrations. His one great success has been in clamping down on suspected terrorists at home. The government appeared rudderless in the weeks immediately following the car bombing of a Bali nightclub that killed more than 200 people in October 2002. Since that time, the national police, with significant help from the US and Australia, have hit back hard, arresting dozens of suspected al-Qaida sympathisers. A clearly upset Yudhoyono lashed out at questions about human rights in the wake of the bombing of the US-owned Marriott hotel in Jakarta last August. "Those who criticise about human rights being breached must understand that all the bombing victims are more important than any human rights issue," he said. [Source: Paul Dillon, Aljazeera, July 4, 2004]

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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