A leader following his muse

 JAKARTA, Indonesia — Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the Indonesian president, recently released a new album of pop music titled “I’m Sure I’ll Get There.” Though well received, the album — his third since becoming president — has not lifted him from the political doldrums.
         Hailed as a reformer and corruption fighter, Yudhoyono was re-elected in July in a landslide victory, and his approval ratings remain high. But long-running scandals, as well as what critics see as the president’s indecisiveness in resolving them, have begun sapping his popularity.
         Yudhoyono has also caused comment, not only by becoming Indonesia’s first leader to record music while in office, but also by showing an extreme sensitivity to criticism. Early in February, Yudhoyono banned the presence of water buffaloes in public demonstrations after protesters likened him to the beast.
         “The president is overreacting to events around him,” said Boni Hargens, a political scientist at the University of Indonesia. “Instead of trying to solve real problems, maybe he’s trying to entertain the people with music.
         “Sukarno liked to sing,” Hargens added, speaking of the first president of an independent Indonesia, “but he never made an album.”
         In its own assessment of the first 100 days of Yudhoyono’s second term, the government said that it had accomplished almost all of its goals for the period. It mostly highlighted the start of major infrastructure projects, including a highway, dams, bridges, housing and water-treatment plants.
         While some in the news media gave the government credit for the projects, attention has been consumed by two corruption scandals. In the first one, a long-running feud pitting the Corruption Eradication Commission against the national police and the attorney general’s office, evidence strongly suggested that police officials and prosecutors tried to frame high-ranking anti-corruption officials. But no one has been charged in the case, about which the president, who championed the fight against corruption in his first term, has said little.
         The second scandal revolves around the murky bailout of a small bank, Century, with politically connected investors. In a highly politicized inquiry, parliament — widely considered Indonesia’s most corrupt institution — has concentrated on the government’s two most highly respected reformers: Boediono, the vice president, and Sri Mulyani, the finance minister, both technocrats. Members of the opposition and government allies alike are believed to be trying to remove one or both officials so as to replace them with political appointees.
         Julian Aldrin Pasha, the president’s spokesman, said the news media had unfairly focused on the scandals and ignored the government’s progress in infrastructure projects and other areas.
         “The media have their own interests and political motives,” Pasha said in a telephone interview. “We still believe we are on the right track in combating corruption and terrorism and other issues.”
         But instead of articulating a firm stance against corruption, Yudhoyono has confused matters by speaking off the cuff, experts said. In December, the president said that an anti-corruption rally was part of a movement to oust him, surprising many here in the capital where political protests are part of the streetscape.
         “SBY’s program has been sidelined by all these problems,” said Muhammad Qodari, executive director of the polling company Indo Barometer, referring to the president by his initials. “People are now having doubts about SBY’s stance on corruption.”
         Qodari said these developments were the main reasons that the president’s approval rating had declined by 15 percentage points, to about 75 percent, in the previous six months, according to an Indo Barometer Survey.
         And so the positive reviews of the president’s new album came as good news.
         Yudhoyono wrote the lyrics and melodies for the nine songs featured on the album. Though the president hardly shies away from picking up a microphone in public, he left the singing to famous Indonesian performers on the album. Yudhoyono handpicked the singers and even chose the typeface on the album cover, said Pasha, his spokesman.
         “He’s a perfectionist,” Pasha said.
         The songs range from the political to the personal. While the album’s title song, “I’m Sure I’ll Get There,” represents Yudhoyono’s political commitment, he writes about Indonesia’s natural beauty in “My Soul Was Enlightened That Night” and about children caught in natural disasters in “For You Sweet Children.”
         But in more personal songs, Yudhoyono reminisces about his adolescence in a small town (“School Holidays”), reflects on the birth of his granddaughter (“Is There”) and ruminates on longing (“Longing My Love”).
         Yudhoyono, who is fluent in English, translated “Longing My Love,” a cut from his first album, into English for the most recent release:
         Take me home and hold me tight
         Take my soul don’t let it go
         Let our vow, our words, our love
         Keep us together.
         Music critics praised the album as a marked improvement over the president’s first two.
         Bens Leo, a prominent music critic, said that the first album was “not so professional” but that the new album’s production and packaging were slick. The album’s singers include the father of country music in Indonesia and a former winner on “Indonesian Idol.”
         As for the president’s composition, “His style is the same,” Leo said. “It hasn’t changed from the first album.”
         Seizing an opportunity for some pop psychoanalysis, The Jakarta Post, an English-language newspaper, said the album revealed a melancholy, artistic temperament. “The cheery titles notwithstanding, the atmosphere of melancholia heavily colours this album,” the newspaper wrote.
         At the Aquarius music store in south Jakarta, the album was not selling particularly well. But customers interviewed said they liked the idea of having a president periodically release albums, or at least saw nothing wrong in it.
         “SBY’s the Number 1 person in this country, and he’s releasing albums — that’s pretty cool,” said Jon Ararya, a musician who leads a Bon Jovi-like band called Angelz. “If he’s artistic, I think that means he’s more caring and more sensitive.”

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