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NEWS UPDATES 18 May 2009

Incumbent president tops favourite list in Indonesian polls

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Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is a clear favorite to win a second term in office in a July election, helped by the resilient performance of Southeast Asia's largest economy during the global crisis, Reuters reported.

The poll line-up was finalised after a deadline to register expired on Saturday and will pit the reform-minded Yudhoyono against a political elite with its roots in the Suharto era.

Yudhoyono's is being challenged by his outspoken vice president, Jusuf Kalla, who chairs Golkar, once the political machine of former strongman President Suharto, and Megawati Sukarnoputri, who heads the PDI-P Party and was defeated by Yudhoyono in a second-round vote in 2004.

"The economy will be the main issue in the election campaign," said Sri Eko Budi Wardani, a political analyst at the Centre for Political Studies at the University of Indonesia.

Indonesia has managed to avoid recession during the global downturn, unlike some of its more export-reliant neighbors.

"Lately, the data shows that most people are satisfied with the current situation of the economy and politically," said Wardani, adding that even if the economy slumped ahead of the July 8 poll people would be unlikely to blame the government.

Yudhoyono was able to make popular cuts in fuel prices from late last year after his ratings had plunged when he raised prices to cut soaring energy subsidies earlier in 2008, a move that hurt millions of Indonesians who live on less than $2 a day.

A government policy to give cash hand-outs to poor families has also helped boost his popularity.

The president's approval rating in a recent poll of 67 percent, against 12 percent for Megawati and 2 percent for Kalla, makes it almost certain he will win a second term, bar some unexpected blow.

A second Yudhoyono term is regarded as the most investor friendly outcome and the markets have widely reflected this, helping make the rupiah the best performing currency in Asia this year and driving up the benchmark stock index.

"Looking at the latest numbers, I think it will be maybe one round," said Anies Baswedan, a political analyst from Paramadina University.

To win the election in one round a candidate needs 50 percent of the vote, otherwise there will be a second round some time in September.

Yudhoyono may try to seek more professional ministers if he won a new term rather than handing out jobs to appease parties in his coalition, Baswedan said. Some current ministers from allied parties have been seen as a drag on Yudhoyono's reform efforts.

"He will want to leave a good legacy in his second term and he will need the right people in the right place for that."

Yudhoyono surprised many by picking respected technocrat and central bank governor, Boediono, as his running mate, stressing the need for an experienced economic hand to help steer the economy through the global financial crisis.

His opponents, on the other hand, have picked running mates with questions over their human rights records.

Kalla is standing for president with Wiranto, a retired general who has been dogged by allegations over abuses in East Timor when he was army chief.

Megawati, the daughter of Indonesia's charismatic first president, Sukarno, will run with Prabowo Subianto, another former general, who was once married to one of Suharto's daughters and fired from the army in 1998 after troops under his command abducted and tortured pro-democracy activists.

The two wrangled for several weeks before agreeing to run together, because both wanted to be president, which analyst Baswedan said made the pairing feel like a "forced marriage."


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