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INDONESIA EMERGING AS A BEACON OF WORKING DEMOCRACY [By Shawn W. Crispin – Asia Times — October 19, 2006] With Thailand under military-appointed rule, the Philippines fresh from a stint of martial law, plus an unresolved vote-rigging scandal, and the rest of Southeast Asia under hard and soft authoritarian yokes, Indonesia has clearly emerged as the region’s healthiest and most vibrant functioning democracy. Eight years after launching a highly ambitious political reform program, Indonesia has surprised many analysts and academics by how quickly and smoothly the world’s fourth-largest country has consolidated meaningful democratic gains. Since 1998, Indonesia has overhauled every fundamental aspect of its former authoritarian state, including an amended constitution, a more powerful parliament and a reformed election system. In 2004, the country’s first-ever direct presidential elections — in which former general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was elected on a strong reform ticket — represented a democratic high-water mark. What’s gone less noticed over that same period have been 250 or so different local elections.