Early returns from Monday's presidential election in Indonesia show former security minister, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, has taken first place, with one-third of the vote. He goes into September's run-off ballot heavily favored.
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has enjoyed a distinguished career in the military and politics.
But the former officer known as the thinking general, because of his intellectual bent, gained international attention last October with a speech remembering the victims of the terrorist bombings in Bali. Mr. Yudhoyonho condemned the 2002 attacks and promised to deal harshly with terrorists. "Make no mistake, we will hunt them, we will find them. We will bring them to justice," he promised. "These diabolical men and their friends of evil simply have no place in our society. They belong to our darkest dungeon locked away deep beneath our children's playgrounds."
Indonesian authorities, initially slow to admit the country had been infiltrated by the Islamic terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, have been swift to try and convict more than a dozen JI members who carried out the Bali bombings.
Although Mr. Yudhoyono served with distinction in the military and rose to the rank of Lieutenant-General, he was never included in the inner circle of high ranking commanders and received his fourth star only upon retirement.
A regional security specialist with Australia's Defense Force Academy, Carl Thayer, says Mr. Yudhoyono was always the man in the background but that has changed. "Yudhoyono has reinvented himself, particularly on terrorism and on relations with external powers, particularly with Australia," he said. "He's shown himself to be a much more pragmatic leader than the current administration and previous presidents." Upon retiring from the military, Mr. Yudhoyono was appointed chief minister for security in the governments of Abdurahman Wahid and Megawati Sukarnoputri.
He was dismissed from the Wahid government after he refused to back emergency measures to prevent Mr. Wahid's impeachment. And he left the Megawati government after being publicly insulted for complaining about being excluded from the president's inner circle.
These setbacks, however, helped Mr. Yudhoyono build a strong candidacy as a new voice that would provide strong but fair leadership to the vast archipelago's 210 million people. He also offered hope that he would address economic problems and fears of instability. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was born in the town of Pacitan, in eastern Java Island, on September 9, 1949. The son of an army lieutenant, he graduated from Indonesia's military academy in 1973.
He received advanced military training in the United States and Europe. He rose through the ranks to become Chief Military Observer of the United Nations Peacekeeping forces in Bosnia and Chief Territorial Affairs of the Indonesian military before retiring in 2000. Mr. Yudhoyono was sometimes criticized as indecisive and too willing to compromise.
However, because of these traits he avoided being identified with the abuses leveled at some senior commanders during the military-backed rule of authoritarian former President Suharto. And his charisma and speaking ability endeared him to many Indonesian citizens.
Professor Thayer says that despite his popularity, Mr. Yudhoyono, if he is elected, will face considerable challenges.
"Because of his ability to attract popular support, he will come in with a kind of mandate that he then has to convert," said Mr. Thayer. "And he's going to face blocks of politicians in the national legislature who are not responsible to him."
Mr. Yudhoyono is pledging to redress the Indonesian economy, which has failed to recover from the Asia economic crisis of seven years ago, and he is pledging to combat corruption, a major drain on economic prosperity. Mr. Yudhoyono also says he will uphold democratic principles, but at the same time pledges to use firm measures to confront instability, insurrection and international terrorism.