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Indonesia president takes reins of crisis-hit Democratic Party

JAKARTA--Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono took full control of the ruling Democratic Party Sunday in a bid to salvage its tumbling popularity ahead of elections in 2014.

Yudhoyono, 63, who is the party's founder and heads its executive body and advisory board, cemented his position as its most powerful member by being chosen as chairman at a party congress in Bali on Saturday.

He replaces former Chairman Anas Urbaningrum, who resigned in February after being named as a suspect by the Corruption Eradication Commission.

That case was the latest in a wave of scandals which have seen several high-ranking party officials convicted for graft and named as corruption suspects in the past year.

Yudhoyono said he was taking the reins as chairman in order to “save and consolidate” the party.

“This position I am going to take is temporary, and only in the process to save and consolidate the party,” Yudhoyono told the congress following a consensus to appoint him.

“If possible I would like to end this chairman post soon after the election ends, in about a year and a half from now,” he added.

Support for the Democratic Party, which has backed Yudhoyono in two successful presidential elections, has nose-dived following the graft cases but Yudhoyono himself remains popular.

A survey in December by Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting showed that satisfaction with Yudhoyono, who was re-elected in a landslide in 2009 for his vow to fight rampant graft, remains high at 51.6 percent.

But the party's overall popularity slumped to just 8 percent from 21 percent in the 2009 general election.

Yudhoyono said that he will remain chairman of the party until after the 2014 legislative and presidential elections — he will step down as president as he is limited to two terms under the constitution.

He added that he will prioritize his presidential duties and hand over the party's daily chairmanship to Syariefuddin Hasan, who is also the cooperatives and small and medium enterprises minister.

Foreign investors are keen to see who will take over from Yudhoyono after the elections, and whether Indonesia — which is Southeast Asia's leading economy — can maintain stability post-2014.

The Democratic Party is expected to endorse a figure to run for the presidency next year.

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