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March 17, 2009

Indonesia: General election campaign kicks off

Indonesia began a three-week campaign Monday for the April 9 parliamentary elections, with residual tension in the once-rebellious province of Aceh, reported Kyodo news agency.

More than 12,000 candidates are vying for 560 seats in the House of Representatives as well as legislative seats at the provincial, municipal and regency levels, the General Election Commission said. Indonesia has 171 million eligible voters, out of a population of 235 million.

Thirty-eight political parties are contesting the elections, with attention focused on three major parties -- the Democratic Party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-Perjuangan) and the Golkar party.

Six local parties are also campaigning for elections in Aceh as part of a 2005 peace deal between the Indonesian government and the now-defunct separatist Free Aceh Movement, locally known as GAM.

The Democratic Party, set up in 2003 as a vehicle for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's presidential bid in 2004, has experienced a phenomenal rise due to the stern measures his administration has taken to eradicate corruption in the country.

Golkar, which was the ruling party under former President Suharto, is chaired by Vice President Jusuf Kalla, who played a significant role in the Aceh peace deal. Golkar and PDI-Perjuangan, led by former President Megawati Sukarnoputri, are the country's largest and second-largest parties.

The general election will be followed by the nation's second direct presidential election on July 8 and a possible runoff scheduled for September 8 if no clear winner emerges from the first round. Parliamentary elections are held every five years.

While the two previous general elections -- in 1999 and 2004 -- were virtually violence-free, a security analyst has warned of tension in Aceh as former GAM rebels, who were seeking independence from Indonesia, vote for the first time.

Sidney Jones, senior adviser of the Asia Program of the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, said tension in Aceh has been running high in the lead-up to the parliamentary elections, particularly after the murders of three members of the GAM-backed Aceh Party, one of the six local Aceh parties.

The Aceh Party has accused the military of targeting its members, but there is evidence to suggest the murders may involve business rivalries. Jones said GAM and the military have yet to fully build mutual trust despite the peace deal.

The military suspects that GAM is still seeking independence from Indonesia, while GAM accuses the military of not fully implementing the peace deal in terms of substance. Aceh has also been hit by a number of terrorist attacks against local and national parties, raising concern among the Acehnese people over possible violence.

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