Tue Jul 7, 2009 7:45pm EDT REUTERS
By John Package
PUNCAK JAYA, Indonesia (Reuters) – Polling stations opened in Papua, the easternmost part of Indonesia, on Wednesday, the start of voting in a presidential election that will determine the pace of reform over the next five years.
Opinion polls have consistently shown that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will be re-elected, winning a second term and a chance to push ahead more aggressively with reforms in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy that would help attract badly needed investment and create jobs.
“We are preparing for today’s vote, I am sure it will go smoothly,” said Tabuni, the head of a polling station in Puncak Jaya, central Papua, where no voters had turned up to cast their ballots.
Reuters witnesses in Papua, which is two hours ahead of the capital Jakarta, said there were no reports of election-related violence in this remote and sometimes restive part of Indonesia.
Security in the resource-rich region was stepped up ahead of the presidential election. Legislative elections in April were marred by clashes in parts of Papua, where a low-level secessionist movement has simmered for years.
Polling stations are open from 7 a.m. until noon across the country and quick counts of the results are expected a few hours after polls close at 1 a.m. EDT. Quick counts have, in the past, proved highly reliable.
FIRST ROUND WIN?
Yudhoyono had 63 percent support in a recent Indonesian Survey Institute poll — well ahead of his rivals, former President Megawati Sukarnoputri and Vice President Jusuf Kalla — and most polls have put him above 50 percent, which would dispense with the need for a run-off in September.
His government has brought political stability, peace and the best economic performance in a decade.
Growth has slowed from 6.1 percent in 2008 and is expected to be between 3 and 4 percent this year, but that is still a much better performance than export-dependent neighbors such as Singapore or Thailand.
His challengers, Megawati and Kalla, have adopted a more nationalist tone in their campaigns, with promises to squeeze more from the country’s rich resources in order to pay for policies to help the poor.
It is Indonesia’s second direct presidential vote since autocratic former President Suharto stepped down in 1998, paving the way for greater democracy.
Stocks, bonds and the rupiah have rallied this year on the prospect of a Yudhoyono win, and analysts see them rising further on hopes of a more robust reform drive in his next five-year term, particularly if he wins in one round.
But if there is a surprise and Yudhoyono loses or it goes to a run-off, there is likely to be strong market sell-off.
The campaign teams of Megawati and Kalla have both aired concerns over widespread irregularities such as duplicate and fictitious names in the electoral roll of 176.3 million voters, and on Monday, the Constitutional Court agreed to a call from Kalla and Megawati to allow people to use identity cards to vote.
(Additional reporting by Sunanda Creagh in Jakarta; Writing by Sara Webb; Editing by Alex Richardson)