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Yudhoyono on verge of making poll history

Sydney Morning Herald

Thursday July 9, 2009

Tom Allard Herald Correspondent in Jakarta

PRESIDENT Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was on course for a thumping victory in Indonesia's presidential elections yesterday as voters overwhelmingly endorsed another five years of his steady, reformist policies.Across the Indonesian archipelago, exit polls and "quick counts" showed voters heavily backed Dr Yudhoyono, the first time they have re-elected a leader since the emergence of democracy 11 years ago.In the troubled region of Papua, he won more than 70 per cent of votes. In Aceh, where a long-running civil war ended in 2005, support for the president and his running mate, the former central banker Boediono, was more than 90 per cent.Densely populated Java also swung emphatically behind the leader. The quick counts showed Dr Yudhoyono secured 60 per cent of votes, compared to 27 per cent for Megawati Soekarnoputri and 13 per cent for Jusuf Kalla.If confirmed, the count will be enough for Dr Yudhoyono to win in one round. To do so, he needs 50 per cent of the vote, plus support of 20 per cent of voters in at least 17 of the 34 provinces.Dr Yudhoyono greeted ecstatic supporters late yesterday and said the results "thank God, show the success of my friends in the struggle".He did not claim victory, however, saying "we will just wait until the Election Commission completes its counting". However, quick counts have been accurate in the past, including in April's legislative elections.In Kampung Bali, a poor central Jakarta neighbourhood nestled behind glittering five-star hotels and shopping malls, most people the Herald spoke to said they had voted for Dr Yudhoyono, universally known as SBY."SBY is honest and a man with dignity," said Muhammad Isa, 26, clutching his young daughter at a makeshift polling station."I like everything he did, especially corruption eradication. Besides, it is easier for me to borrow money to start a little business of my own. I sell hand-phone vouchers and make motorcycle repairs."While the global financial crisis has battered its neighbours, Indonesia's economy has been largely unscathed.Falling petrol prices, rising incomes and cash handouts to the poor have underpinned a surge in consumer sentiment, which is at a four-year high.Further evidence of the optimism that has swept Dr Yudhoyono to an apparent victory is the 50 per cent rise in share prices this year and the fortunes of the rupiah, which is Asia's best performing currency.It's a far cry from Indonesia's blood-soaked introduction to democracy when Soeharto was ousted in the wake of the Asian financial crisis that hit Indonesia harder than any other country.The election was also a resounding rejection of Prabowo Subianto and Wiranto, retired generals from the Soeharto era accused of serious human rights violations. They were the respective running mates of Mrs Soekarnoputri and Mr Kalla.By re-electing Dr Yudhoyono, Indonesians have shown they believe the democratic system can deliver a leader who adequately addresses their needs and aspirations.Dr Marcus Mietzner, of the Australian National University's faculty of Asian studies, said this should help entrench the fledgling democracy. "This is the first time Indonesians have re-elected a president under democratic circumstances."

© 2009 Sydney Morning Herald

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