Indonesians Vote in Presidential Election

Indonesians voted Wednesday in their
emerging democracy's second direct presidential election, with the
incumbent expected to win a single-round victory thanks to recent
economic and political stability.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has won popular support on a
campaign of anti-corruption and financial support for the poor.
Opinion polls indicate that Yudhoyono, who won his first five-year
term in 2004, will get the necessary 50 percent plus one vote to
defeat two opponents and avoid a September runoff.

Polling booths opened across Indonesia's three time zones, from
Aceh in the west to remote Papua province in the far east, without
any reports of incidents.

"I voted for SBY," said Fransiscus Bokeyau, a 40-year-old
elementary school teacher in Papua, referring to the president's
initials. "People feel free of fear and peaceful under his
leadership. Slowly the standard of living and the economy in Papua
are improving."

Before dictator Suharto was ousted in 1998, Indonesia was under
brutal authoritarian rule for decades, and until recently was
wracked by secessionist battles and suicide bombings by
al-Qaida-funded Islamic militants. It suffered towering
unemployment after the Asian financial crisis in 1997-98.

Today, the predominantly Muslim country of 235 million is
enjoying a level of harmony its critics had said was impossible,
with its economy growing at 4 percent a year amid a severe global
downturn.

"We are optimistic our candidate will win in a single round
based on recent poll results," Andi Mallarangeng, Yudhoyono's
campaign spokesman, said on the eve of the election. People "want
the continuation of stability in politics, security and economy."

Still, Indonesia faces huge obstacles in attracting foreign
investment to improve its crumbling infrastructure, creating an
independent judiciary, and reducing poverty of up to 100 million
people. It has also struggled to stop illegal logging and mining
that are depleting its natural resources and causing global
warming.

Most public opinion polls in Indonesia are funded by political
parties, but even the surveys paid for by Yudhoyono's opponents put
the 59-year-old former general 10 percent ahead of the closest
rival. Pro-Yudhoyono pollsters give him a 30 percent lead at 70
percent of the vote. Yudhoyono needs 50 percent of cast ballots to
win in one round.

Yudhoyono is competing against Megawati Sukarnoputri, a former
president whose father was the first postcolonial leader of
Indonesia, and Vice President Jusuf Kalla, the frontman of the
ex-dictator's political machine, Golkar.

Leaders of the country's military past still play an active role
in politics. The courts, police and parliament are regularly ranked
among the most corrupt institutions in the world by anti-graft
watchdogs.

The running mates of Yudhoyono's opponents, former generals
Prabowo Subianto and Wiranto, have faced accusations by U.N.
prosecutors and rights groups of atrocities during the
dictatorship, but are expected to win millions of votes.

Yudhoyono has gained a reputation as a clean politician and a
leader who cracked down on the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist network
blamed for a series of attacks between 2002 and 2005 killed more
than 240 people, most of them foreign tourists on Bali.

The Indonesian Survey Circle, which has accurately forecast
previous elections, predicted in a poll published Monday that
Yudhoyono would win more than 50 percent of the popular vote. It
said Sukarnoputri and Kalla would garner less than 30 percent.

The independent agency said it conducted 2,000 face-to-face
interviews in the nationwide survey in mid-June, and that it has a
margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points. It declined
to tell The Associated Press who commissioned the survey.

Around 176 million people signed up to vote at more than half a
million polling stations. The Constitutional Court sided with an
opposition demand this week that other citizens - possibly tens of
millions - will be allowed to make last-minute registrations to
exercise their right to vote.

The National Election Commission has been widely criticized for
failing to compile a list of registered voters, as it did in the
April elections. Yudhoyono's rivals - while providing no proof -
claim that millions of people will be unable to participate.


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