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Indonesia : Yudhoyono pledges peaceful 2009 polls
Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Friday pledged peaceful elections for the country’s 226 million people next year, during which he has not formally said if he will contest, reported Reuters.

Reuters quoted Yudhoyono as saying during an annual address to parliament ahead of the country’s August 17 independence day, “Our democracy is again put under test. Can we pass the election year well and safely? I think we all agree to respond: Yes, we can.”

Yudhoyono, 58, has not formally said whether he will stand for re-election in 2009, but is widely expected to do so. He has consistently been ranked the most popular presidential candidate, well ahead of his rival, former President Megawati Sukarnoputri, until recently, when she took the lead.

The 58-year-old former general is seen by many people as the most accomplished of Indonesia’s post-Suharto leaders, due to his sound economic management and focus on reform, although his popularity plummeted after he hiked fuel prices in May, hurting millions of people who live on $2 a day or less.

If he won a second five-year term in next year’s re-election, he could continue the job of tackling the nation’s main impediments to even better growth, including creaking infrastructure, bloated bureaucracy, widespread corruption and unpredictable courts.

In his speech, he also pointed to Indonesia’s success in resolving many of its religious and secessionist conflicts in hot spots such as Poso, Aceh, and Papua, although he said vigilance was needed since the “country is still unsafe from terrorist acts.”

Under Yudhoyono, Southeast Asia’s top economy has had its best sustained performance since the Asian financial crisis, but has also been buffeted by high food and fuel prices.

“Even though law and security aspects are great, the thing that will pave his way to be re-elected is the economy,” said Muhammad Qodari, director of pollster Indo Barometer.

Yudhoyono forecast economic growth of 6.2 next year. Chief economics minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said later on Friday that the economy should grow between 6.2-6.4 percent in 2008, at the upper end of an earlier 6.0-6.4 percent estimate.

Growth of six-plus percent, while high for Indonesia, is still well below the country’s potential given its abundant natural resources -- palm oil, tin, nickel and coal -- and lags the pace seen in China and India.

Many of Yudhoyono’s policies, particularly a focus on economic management and reform, have been welcomed by foreign investors, although red tape and worries about contracts has stalled new investment in the key mining and energy sectors.

Despite better growth, many of the poor have seen little trickle-down benefit while being treated to an almost daily diet of news about corruption among the elite.

“These corruption investigations simply remind people how widespread the problem is, eroding trust in the elite,” said Max Lane, a visiting fellow at National University of Singapore.

Despite being an oil and gas producer, Indonesia has been hit by soaring energy prices because it subsidises certain types of fuel, but Yudhoyono vowed to maintain macroeconomic stability.

He said the government would spend a total of 227.2 trillion rupiah ($24.76 billion) on subsidies next year, leaving a budget deficit of about 1.9 percent of gross domestic product.

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