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Indonesia Conducts Colorful, Raucous Celebration of Democracy in Election Campaign - 2004-04-02

In Indonesia, campaigning has ended, and voters are observing three days of reflection before going to the polls Monday to elect national and local assemblies. Correspondent Scott Bobb has been covering the campaign, and has these notes from Jakarta on the colorful, and sometimes raucous, nature of Indonesia's democratic exercise.

Not everyone in Indonesia participated in the three weeks of campaigning, but for the millions of people who did, the rallies, speeches and music were a celebration of democracy.

Catchy campaign songs had even the usually reserved President Megawati Sukarnoputri dancing on stage at her final rally March 28 in Jakarta.

Some parties used theater to get their message across, like a rally in Indonesia's second city, Surabaya.

In the skit, the players bemoan their lives, after losing their homes, their jobs and even their wives. To the amusement of the audience, the actors harmonize their lament in a popular national anthem, then urge the audience to vote for representatives who will pay attention to the needs of the poor.

Such campaign slogans have been common, due to widespread dissatisfaction with politicians, who are seen as having done little to address poverty and inflation.

Despite the rowdy campaign style, the parties avoided clashes and traffic jams by taking turns to hold their rallies and parades.

Nevertheless, the convoys of trucks and buses loaded with flag-waving supporters, escorted by swarms of engine-revving motorcycles, snarled traffic and disrupted daily life everywhere.

The campaign was also marked for the first time by the extensive use of television advertising.

Some ads demonstrated how to punch the ballots correctly. Others played on Indonesians' broad sense of humor to attract voters.

If there was a musical backdrop to the campaign, it had to be the pop music called Dangdut, which played at every rally, except those of the most religious parties.

Dangdut songs, blasting from sound trucks, set everyone dancing, and lent a special flavor to the term political party.

The music and political speeches have stopped for now. But presidential elections are just three months away. So, the music and the rallies and parades will resume soon, to the delight of some citizens, and the irritation - no doubt - of others.