Millions of people in the Indonesian capital voted for their governor for the first time yesterday, the latest in a wave of direct local elections hailed as key to strengthening democracy in the world's most populous Muslim nation.
The Indonesian capital's current deputy governor, Fauzi Bowo, was comfortably ahead of a rival backed by a conservative Islamic party in a sample count yesterday.
"I'm very happy, I've been looking forward to this day," said Wanem, a 47-year-old housewife as she waited to cast her ballot. "We never had the right to chose before, someone always did it for us."
Like many Indonesians, she uses only one name.
Voting for governor ended following a campaign that threw a spotlight on the role of Islam in politics, corruption and a host of social and environmental problems in the city.
Winning Jakarta is seen as an important scene-setter for parliamentary and presidential elections in 2009.
"I just want to have a better Jakarta. More jobs, no traffic jams, no floods," said Suhendi, a middle-aged man who had just cast his vote in a polling station in West Jakarta.
Only two candidates were contesting the election.
Adang Daradjatun, a former deputy national police chief, is backed by the Justice and Prosperity Party.
The conservative Islamic party has pledged cleaner government, but has also raised questions over what exactly it's Islamic agenda is in the world's most populous Muslim country.
The young party has grown fast, securing 7.34 percent of the vote and 45 of the national parliament's 550 seats in 2004.
His opponent Bowo is backed by a coalition of 19 parties, including leading national parties Golkar and the Indonesian Democratic Struggle Party.
A sample, or "quick count" -- in which a sample of the votes are tallied -- conducted by the Indonesian Survey Institute, a private pollster, and Metro TV indicated that Bowo was leading with about 57 percent of the vote. Daradjatun had 43 percent.
During the two-week campaign, both parties appeared to rely on a traditional formula of throwing festive rallies, with popular singers, to draw crowds.
Media reports said some of those attending rallies were paid up to 35,000 rupiah (US$3.78) each for "transport money" to attend.
Plenty of mud-slinging marked the campaigning too.
Daradjatun rode on an anti-corruption ticket, accusing the city administration of incompetence.
But Bowo, an urban planning specialist, says his years of experience in local government are a reason to vote for him.
Meanwhile, Bowo's coalition of parties has raised concerns that a Daradjatun victory could result in Shariah-style laws, a view shared by some rights activists.
Daradjatun has dismissed this as a smear campaign and said he has no intention of, for example, closing legal nightspots.
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