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July 14, 2008

Indonesia kicks off 9-month election campaign
Indonesia began Saturday a lengthy nine-month election campaign for next year's parliamentary elections with a call to all political parties eligible to run in the upcoming polls to commit to peaceful rallies, reported state news agency Antara.

Thirty-four parties are eligible to take part in the campaign for the legislative elections on April 9, 2009, to vie for places in Indonesia's 682-member parliament. Candidates for the Regional Representatives' Council are also invited to take part in the campaign.

In the last general elections held in 2004, a total of 24 political parties contested the election.

The political parties can then start "selling" their missions and visions to win over voters' hearts and minds from Sunday until April 5, 2009.

"To mark the nine-month campaign, we have invited leaders of the political parties to sign a peaceful declaration on Saturday. We hope it will prevent them from engaging in 'black' campaigns," a member of the Indonesian Election Commission (KPU) Abdul Azis was quoted by DPA as telling the Jakarta Post.

Abdul said all parties had expressed their commitment to obey the recently issued regulation on the election campaign.

The decree, issued three days before the campaign kicks off, allows the election campaign to be run through limited meetings, indoor and general meetings or advertisements in the print and electronic media.

Under the regulation, closed-door campaign meetings can be attended by a maximum of 500 people at the provincial level, and indoor campaign meetings can have no more than 250 attendants.

Political parties are allowed to place campaign materials such as giant banners in public places across the archipelago, except in places of worship, schools, hospitals, state buildings, main roads or turnpikes.

Next year's parliamentary election will be followed by a direct presidential poll - the second direct presidential election since Indonesia gained independence 64 years ago - later next year.

The reformist President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono faces a resurgent threat from former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, who was trounced by Yuhdoyono in the country's first direct presidential election in 2004.

Recent polls show support for Megawati's People's Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) surging, while her position as preferred president has moved ahead of Yudhoyono for the first time since his election.

Political analysts said anger over a government decision to hike fuel prices by 30 per cent in May to cope with the ballooning cost of multi-billion dollar subsidies was pushing voters away from key Yudhoyono supporters.

The price rise triggered angry protests across the archipelago nation.

Yudhoyono's largest coalition partner Golkar, the former political vehicle of dictator Suharto, has suffered a string of defeats in recent provincial elections because of its support for the price rise.

The country has introduced a series of electoral reforms since the downfall of autocratic President Suharto in 1998. Suharto died on January 27, at the age of 86.

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