Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, also known by his initials SBY, won over voters in Indonesia’s first democratic elections with his image as a man of integrity, a strong communicator and firm leader in times of crisis.
Mr Yudhoyono is probably best known internationally for his leading role in Indonesia’s fight against terrorism in the wake of the Bali bombing in 2002.
His speech on the anniversary of the attack was seen as one of the strongest delivered by any Indonesian leader on an issue which is still politically sensitive.
But critics say the former military commander is surprisingly indecisive, tending to consider all perspectives and opinions before making up his mind.
Budi Santoso, chairman of Mr Yudhoyono’s Democrat party, agrees he is a thoughtful man, but says he is capable of making decisive moves when necessary.
“For example, while other presidential candidates where still looking about for suitable running mates, Susilo had already chosen Jusuf Kalla as his vice president,” Mr Santoso said.
The man dubbed “the thinking general” was born in 1949 in East Java.
The son of a retired army lieutenant, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono graduated from Indonesia’s military academy in 1973.
Two years later Indonesian security forces invaded East Timor. As he rose through the ranks, Mr Yudhoyono completed several tours of duty in the territory. By the time of East Timor’s violent transition to independence in 1999, he had been promoted to Chief of Territorial Affairs.
As such he would have reported directly to Gen Wiranto, the former head of the armed forces who has now been indicted for war crimes by a special tribunal in East Timor.
But there has never been any attempt to bring charges against Mr Yudhoyono.
His supporters say he was not part of the inner circle of military commanders accused of allowing the violence to spread.
In fact, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono never quite achieved the highest levels in the military to which he aspired.
His four star General status was an honorary award given to him when he left the army to join the government of Abdurrahman Wahid in 2000.
He started as minister for mines but was soon promoted to chief minister for security and political affairs.
A year later he found himself in conflict with his boss. Facing impeachment, President Wahid asked Mr Yudhoyono to declare a state of emergency. Mr Yudhoyono declined, and promptly lost his job.
In March 2004, history repeated itself. Mr Yudhoyono, reappointed as senior political and security minister under President Megawati, stepped down after a very public spat with the president and her husband.
The decision to resign, according to Denny Ja, executive director of the Indonesian Survey Institute, has paid off handsomely.
“Even though SBY was a senior member of a deeply unpopular government, he has come to be seen as a victim of that government rather than part of it,” said Mr Ja.
Being forced from office under successive presidents seems to have enhanced Mr Yudhoyono’s reputation as a man of principle, willing to sacrifice his own ambitions for the values he believes in.
That – and the fact he looks good on TV – could also have proved an important factor in his election win, according to Denny Ja.
“You have to remember that 60% of the population only graduated from elementary school, so they don’t investigate candidates too closely,” Mr Ja said.
Filed under: Opini