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NEWS UPDATES 17 May 2009

Indonesia Elections: Yudhoyono faces challenge from Megawati, Kalla

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Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono faces a twin challenge from his vice president and opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri in a July election to set the pace of reform in Southeast Asia's biggest economy, reported Reuters.

With only hours left before a deadline to register expires on Saturday, the presidential race is set to pit the popular reformer Yudhoyono against a political elite with its roots in the autocratic Suharto era.

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.

"I think the Yudhoyono-Boediono ticket is good for clean governance and policy making. It's an important development," said political analyst and author Kevin O'Rourke.

Yudhoyono had initially been expected to pick a running mate from one of the smaller political parties in his coalition.

But he may have been swayed towards a non-partisan choice by his testy relationship with his outspoken vice president, Jusuf Kalla, who chairs Golkar, Suharto's former political machine, and is also running for the presidency.

"He (Boediono) will help me to overcome the economic crisis," Yudhoyono told a rally on Friday at a university in Bandung, West Java.

Yudhoyono, dressed in striking red shirt and traditional black Indonesian hat, highlighted the stability his administration had brought to Indonesia, which had been seen as facing the risk of political disintegration and deeper economic turmoil after the crisis of the late 1990s.

The president's approval rating 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.

To stand as president, a candidate needs support from parties which won a quarter of the vote in last month's parliamentary election, or a fifth of the seats in parliament.

The president's Democrat Party, which won more than a fifth of the vote, has support from 23 parties, including the Islamist Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and the National Mandate Party (PAN), a Democrat official said. The coalition gives Yudhoyono support of parties controlling well over half the seats in the next parliament.

Kalla is standing with running mate Wiranto, a retired general who has been dogged by allegations over his human rights record and heads the Hanura party.

"We will run the economy for the nation," Kalla told reporters after registering his application at the election commission's office in central Jakarta.

Megawati, who lost to Yudhoyono in 2004 elections, will run with Prabowo Subianto, another former general who has also faced questions over his human rights record in the Suharto era.

Prabowo, who was once married to one of Suharto's daughters, headed the special forces, but was 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.

Megawati, the daughter of Indonesia's charismatic first president, Sukarno, said late on Friday after announcing her candidacy that Prabowo would be given the responsibility of conducting "pro-people" economic polices, without elaborating.

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


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