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March 21, 2009

Songs, dances add colour to Indonesia’s election campaigns

Campaign fever swept Indonesia on Friday as parties staged colourful mass rallies with dancing and rock bands three weeks before general elections in the world's third-largest democracy, reported AFP.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a normally taciturn former general, set the pace with an appearance before up to 30,000 cheering supporters of his Democratic Party at the main Bung Karno Stadium in central Jakarta.

Wearing the party's blue and carrying banners with slogans like "SBY YES," supporters danced and sung along with boisterous dungdut folk tunes and rock songs peppered with lyrics praising Yudhoyono's liberal leadership.

The president is fond of a song himself and has released several albums of syrupy love ballads, but he took the microphone Friday only to recount his successes as president and urge party loyalists to get out and vote.

"The world has many crises, like climate change ... and financial turmoil, but our country still manages to withstand all that because of the hard work of Indonesians," he said.

"Indonesia should be thankful for and proud of the Democratic Party."

He reminded voters that his governing coalition, formed after he became Indonesia's first directly elected president in 2004, had signed a peace deal with separatist rebels in Aceh province and paid off the country's debts to the International Monetary Fund, a hangover from the 1998 Asian financial crisis.

He also returned to his signature campaign theme – clean government in one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

"We are a political party that is clean. We aren't dirty," he said to cheers from the crowd, who had gathered on the playing field under a blazing sun after Friday prayers.

Campaigning for Indonesia's third general elections since the fall of the Suharto administration in 1998 got underway on Monday with fears of a global recession dominating voters' concerns in Southeast Asia's biggest economy.

More than 30 parties are competing for places in the 560-seat national parliament in polls that will have a huge bearing on presidential elections in July.

Parties need 25 percent of the popular vote or 20 percent of seats in the House of Representatives to be able to nominate their own candidates for president.

Yudhoyono's centrist Democratic Party, founded in 2001, is on target to become the largest in the country with 24.3 percent of the vote, according to a new poll released on Friday by the Indonesian Survey Institute.

Golkar, Suharto's former political vehicle, would win 15.9 percent while the Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) of ex-president Megawati Sukarnoputri would garner 17.3 percent, it said.

Support for Islamic parties in the most populated Muslim-majority country is set to drop sharply to only 24 percent of the vote compared to 38.1 percent in 2004.

Roughly 90 percent of the vast archipelago's 234 million people are Muslim, but there are sizeable Buddhist, Christian, Confucian, Hindu and animist minorities.

As Yudhoyono marshalled his supporters in Jakarta, rival presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto delighted his at a rally in Medan, North Sumatra, by dancing on stage with three pop divas, news website Detikcom reported.

Prabowo, a former general under a cloud for human rights abuses, descended from the stage and was carried through the raucous crowd by supporters of his Gerindra party despite frantic efforts by police to bring him back.

The Islam-based Prosperous Justice Party struck a more sober note at a rally in East Java.

"Don't choose politicians that are rotten, corrupt, cheat with their secretaries and commit adultery," party president Tifatul Sembiring told the crowd.

Party faithful on motorbikes took over streets in cities across the country, including thousands who turned up to rally for the Golkar party in Pekanbaru, Riau province.

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