Tue, Jul 06, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Indonesia holds first direct vote

GOING TO THE POLLS The world's most populous Muslim country held its first direct presidential elections yesterday, but there may be a run-off yet to come


Papuan tribesmen show their ballot paper during the presidential election at Kurulu district in Indonesia's remote Baliem valley of Papua province yesterday. Indonesians went to the polls yesterday to directly elect their president for the first time. More than 150 million people are eligible to vote across Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago of 17,000 islands and 220 million people.


Indonesians voted yesterday in the country's first direct presidential election, and a former general said he was confident of winning the most votes but not enough to avoid a run-off.

Opinion polls showed President Megawati Sukarnoputri trailing well behind her former chief security minister, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, in the race to lead the world's most populous Muslim nation, a front-line state in the war on terror.

However, the surveys show Yudhoyono, 54, short of a majority. If none of the five candidates in the fray gets over 50 percent, there will be a run-off in September between the top two.

"I have confidence that if there is nothing extraordinary, I can head for the second round," Yudhoyono said as he walked to a polling booth near his home in Bogor, 30km south of Jakarta.

With Yudhoyono the favourite, opinion polls show a close battle for second place between Megawati, former military chief Wiranto and moderate Muslim leader Amien Rais.

Megawati, who has a reputation for reticence, declined to speak to reporters when she voted.

Wiranto said he would accept whatever the ballot produced. "Whatever the result will be, we will accept it gracefully."

Speaking to reporters later at his home, Yudhoyono predicted a tough run-off and urged parties not to resort to violence.

"The key is everyone, the candidates, the campaign teams, the supporters, should all restrain themselves," he said.

Megawati has been unable to jump-start a sluggish economy during three years in power that have seen a wave of militant Muslim bomb attacks that killed hundreds.

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