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Archive for Sunday, July 4, 2004

Indonesians may dump president in first election

July 4, 2004

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— Indonesia's young democracy moves up a notch Monday with its first direct presidential election, and voters appear set to dump the incumbent and choose a poetry-writing, guitar-playing ex-general with a Mr. Clean image.

President Megawati Sukarnoputri trails in voter surveys behind Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the former security minister who resigned from the Cabinet months ago seeking to replace Megawati.

"Indonesians feel very let down by Megawati. The image that she cared for the common people fell apart during her presidency," said Daniel Sparingga, a political analyst from Airlangga University. "Many just want her replaced by a more approachable leader who can fix the country's problems."

A victory for Yudhoyono is likely to be seen as reinforcement for the war on terrorism, judging by his decisive response to the 2002 bombings on the island of Bali that killed more than 200 people. Hundreds of suspected Islamic extremists were arrested, and about 40 were convicted. Three were sentenced to death.

But terrorism has not been a big issue in the election campaign. What matters is a widespread perception that during her nearly four years in office, Megawati has failed to follow up on her early economic successes and clean up the corruption plaguing daily life.

"Megawati somehow did not realize the people wanted genuine change on issues of corruption and real progress on the economy. She didn't deliver," said Jeffrey Winters, a professor and Indonesia specialist at Northwestern University.

The same pollsters who accurately predicted the outcome of the April parliamentary election now show Yudhoyono leading with about 40 percent. Neither Megawati nor any other contender has more than 15 percent, and a fifth of voters remain undecided. If one candidate tops 50 percent in Monday's vote, no runoff election will be needed.

This presidential election, coming six years after President Suharto's 32-year dictatorship was overthrown, is the first by universal suffrage. Previous presidents were elected by lawmakers -- a system widely abused under Suharto.

On the campaign trail, Yudhoyono has not laid out any specifics about how he would improve living standards and ease unemployment, which exceeds 20 percent.

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