Jokowi-Yudhoyono meeting eases months of tension

Mr Joko and Dr Yudhoyono had lunch together and chatted over snacks and tea on the verandah of the state palace, but they were tight-lipped over what was discussed.
Mr Joko and Dr Yudhoyono had lunch together and chatted over snacks and tea on the verandah of the state palace, but they were tight-lipped over what was discussed.PHOTO: INDONESIAN PRESIDENTIAL PALACE

Chat over lunch seems amicable, after violent rally and bitter Jakarta polls

Indonesian President Joko Widodo met former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono yesterday, easing months of political tensions sparked by intense competition in the Jakarta gubernatorial election and talk of a coup attempt.

They had lunch together and chatted over snacks and tea on the verandah of the state palace in what appeared to be a friendly and amicable interaction.

Both were tight-lipped over what was discussed, telling reporters that they had talked about the nation's political and economic issues.

Dr Yudhoyono said the meeting also served to "seek clarification", without giving details.

He added: "This is a good beginning because it is not good if there is miscommunication, misinformation between him and me, or among us who have led this country. This is both our hope."

Relations between Mr Joko and his predecessor became tense after the latter fielded his son, Mr Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, in the Jakarta gubernatorial race, pitting him against former education and culture minister Anies Baswedan and Mr Joko's former deputy governor and ally, Mr Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known as Ahok.

Their relations worsened after a rally on Nov 4 turned violent against Mr Basuki over alleged blasphemy, prompting Mr Joko to lash out at "political actors" - whom he did not name - for stoking the protest. Eleven people were arrested on Dec 2 over a suspected coup against the government, and eight were released the next day.

Mr Agus has been eliminated from the gubernatorial race after garnering the least votes in the first round on Feb 15. Mr Basuki had topped the poll with 42.9 percent of the votes but fell short of an outright win. He will face Mr Anies in the second round on April 19.

Analysts said the meeting yesterday signalled that relations between the two leaders were on the mend and would restore harmony in the community, which had been damaged by the fiery contest.

Political analyst Ali Nurdin believed that the two "must have discussed a strategic agenda".

The meeting could help to shift some support - but not significantly - from Mr Agus to Mr Basuki, he told The Straits Times.

"They needed each other. SBY wanted to clarify his position... and Jokowi needed to help Ahok win more votes," he said, referring to Dr Yudhoyono by his initials.

"They both have interests and this is the right moment for them to meet."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 10, 2017, with the headline 'Jokowi-Yudhoyono meeting eases months of tension'. Print Edition | Subscribe