Indonesia votes today in only its second direct presidential election since the fall of the Suharto dictatorship, with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono expected to win another five-year term.
The liberal ex-general is hoping to avoid a run-off in September by beating opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri and outgoing Vice President Jusuf Kalla with a clear majority in the first round.
Most opinion polls indicate he has enough support to avoid a run-off, although some have pointed to a much closer race with Yudhoyono facing either Megawati or Kalla in a second-round decider.
Hundreds of thousands of police have been deployed across the vast archipelago to safeguard polling stations, especially in Papua where ethnic tensions are high and violence marred legislative polls in April.
Last-minute disputes over inaccurate voter lists were settled after Megawati obliquely suggested Yudhoyono’s supporters were trying to rig the vote. In a dramatic ruling late on Monday, the Constitutional Court changed voter registration rules to allow Indonesians left off the rolls to cast their ballots with identity cards.
“Let’s make the election a success. Don’t let the world see improper things happening in Indonesia,” Yudhoyono said in response to the ruling.
Speaking to provincial governors yesterday, he called for a “smooth presidential election that is truly honest, fair, direct, free and secret.”
Megawati called on Indonesians to vote with a “clear and honest mind.”
If he wins, the 59-year-old known simply as SBY would be the first president to serve consecutive terms at the helm of the world’s third-biggest democracy after India and the US.
His centrist Democratic Party tripled its vote in April’s polls to become the largest party in parliament, allowing him to handpick a loyal Cabinet of technocrats to speed up his reform agenda if he is re-elected.
Despite his popularity, Yudhoyono has been criticized for caving in to Islamist extremists over tolerance issues such as a controversial anti-pornography law and restrictions on the minority Ahmadiyah sect.
The presence of Suharto-era generals on all three tickets shows the lingering power of the military elite in Indonesia, analysts said. Megawati teamed up with notorious special forces ex-commander Prabowo Subianto as her running mate, while Kalla chose former military chief Wiranto, who has been indicted by UN prosecutors for crimes against humanity over East Timor’s bloody independence referendum in 1999.
Yudhoyono chose Western-educated economist and former central bank chief Boediono as his vice-presidential candidate.