Wed, Jul 07, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Indonesia's election fight focuses on second place

RUNNER-UP The retired general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will not win enough votes to prevent a run-off so the big question now is

REUTERS , JAKARTA

An election worker calls out votes from a ballot, during a recount of invalid votes, yesterday in Jakarta.

PHOTO: AFP

The battle to lead Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, shifted yesterday to who will face retired general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in a September runoff too close to call.

Yudhoyono failed to win a majority in Monday's presidential election, which passed off peacefully, easing investor fears of violence or major hitches in a process involving 153 million registered voters in their first direct presidential election.

Share prices and Indonesia's rupiah jumped with relief.

"It's an election euphoria which has been predicted. The election ran smoothly and it looks quite a fair process," said Yudhistia Susanto, a fund manager at Batavia Prosperindo Aset Manajemen.

With much at stake in a country of 220 million people with a wobbly economy and concerns about Islamic militancy, Yudhoyono now faces a tough campaign against incumbent Megawati Sukarnoputri or former armed forces chief Wiranto.

Yudhoyono has warned of possible violence and voiced caution when he spoke to reporters at the General Election Commission.

"We will launch a healthy yet tough competition by exercising proper politics. I leave the outcome to the people.

"Of course, I have to develop my strategy, my tactics, my actions, to win the next battle. I am ready to go to the second round whoever my competitor."

Jakarta's main share index was up more than three percent in afternoon trade and the rupiah hit 8,905 to the US dollar before slipping back below 9,000.

Unofficial reports put turnout at more than 80 percent as Indonesians from far eastern Papua province to Hindu Bali and strife-torn Aceh in the west voted in force.

With about 14 percent of the vote counted, Yudhoyono was ahead with about 34 percent, a slimmer lead than many had expected over Megawati's 26 percent. Wiranto had 22 percent.

Some analysts said Megawati won more votes than expected with the help of her running mate, a Muslim leader, and also as the momentum behind Yudhoyono's meteoric rise began to ebb.

A representative sample of ballots by the US-based National Democratic Institute and a local research organization showed Yudhoyono, 54, projected to win 34 percent of the final vote.

That is lower than most pre-election polls, which showed him at around 40-45 percent, about 30 percentage points ahead of his nearest rivals but under the majority needed to avoid a runoff on September 20.

"I wouldn't try to call it at all," said William Liddle, a leading expert on Indonesia from Ohio State University, referring to the outcome of the runoff battle.

"Whoever becomes challenger, Wiranto or Megawati, will face a battle against a strong nemesis," said Muhammad Budhyatna, a University of Indonesia political analyst.

On major issues, little divides Yudhoyono from Megawati and Wiranto. All want to raise incomes in a country where half the population lives on less than US$2 a day. All have promised to fight terror in a country where Islamic militants linked to al Qaeda have carried out a spate of bombings.

Whoever wins will have trouble taking a harder line on terrorism and dealing with underlying problems hurting the economy and discouraging investment, analysts say.

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