Indonesia kicks off election campaign season
Mon Mar 16, 2009 2:45am EDT
By Olivia Rondonuwu
JAKARTA, March 16 (Reuters) - Indonesia kicked off its busy election season on Monday for two ballots that will determine the extent Southeast Asia's biggest economy presses ahead with reforms to attract investment and lift growth.
Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to join colourful, flag-waving rallies in the run-up to a parliamentary election on April 9. That will be followed by a presidential vote on July 8.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono -- who has partly delivered on promises to create jobs, tackle corruption and maintain security -- and his Democrat Party are well ahead of rivals in opinion polls. [ID:nIDPOLLS]
"During his presidency, Indonesia has enjoyed stability and the economy has not been too bad," said political analyst Syamsuddin Haris, explaining Yudhoyono's lead in the polls.
Indonesia, where economic growth has topped 6 percent in the last two years, had also avoided major fallout from the global financial crisis so far, added Haris of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).
A Yudhoyono-led government, particularly one in which the Democrat Party wins the biggest share of seats, could help lead to further reforms, with policies focused on growth and job creation.
But if he has to again rely on a broad coalition of parties for support, that could hamper his ability to drive reforms, pitting his technocrats against various vested interests.
Street rallies are not officially set to begin until Tuesday, but representatives of dozens of political parties gathered in Jakarta on Monday to sign a declaration for a peaceful campaign.
The politicians, linking arms on a stage at a Jakarta convention centre, pledged a disciplined and peaceful campaign.
Supporters, dressed in blazers matching party colours and waving flags, stood and sang the national anthem.
Yudhoyono, who founded the Democrat Party, did not attend but leaders from some of the 38 parties taking part were present.
"I invite all Indonesians to actively participate in the 2009 election. Let us advance the democratic process well and campaign peacefully," Yudhoyono said in a separate televised address.
The election season is typically a time of mass rallies across the archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, and provides an important economic boost as political parties hand out cash, T-shirts and other goodies to voters.
This year, about 170 million voters will pick representatives for national and local parliaments. With so many parties and thousands of candidates, the ballot papers are as big as a broadsheet newspaper.
Some analysts are concerned about security, warning that in some resource-rich areas such as Aceh province, which has seen renewed tension between supporters of the military and backers of former rebels, as well as Papua, which has a secessionist movement, there could be outbreaks of violence.
Four members of the Democrat Party were badly hurt at the weekend in Bali after being attacked by a group wielding machetes while on party business, according to media reports.
The outcome of the parliamentary election will determine which parties or alliances can field a candidate for the presidential election.
Last week, former president Megawati Sukarnoputri and Yudhoyono's vice president, Jusuf Kalla, met amid growing speculation their respective parties, PDI-P and Golkar, may team up against Yudhoyono's Democrat Party.
But the large number of undecided voters makes the outcome hard to predict.
New election rules, under which only parties or coalitions that won 20 percent of the votes or 25 percent of the seats can field presidential candidates, could turn minor parties into kingmakers as the main parties seek alliances.
(Additional reporting by Sunanda Creagh and Telly Nathalia)
(Writing by Sara Webb and Ed Davies; Editing by Dean Yates) (firstname.lastname@example.org; Reuters Messaging: email@example.com; Tel: +62 21 384 6364))
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