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Campaining Starts for Indonesia's Presidential Elections Next Month - 2004-04-19

The campaigning has begun for the first round of Indonesia's presidential election next month. The contest for the leadership of the world's third-largest democracy is shaping up to be a three-horse race.

Even before the final count from the April 5 parliamentary elections is in, hopefuls have begun jockeying for position in the separate presidential election. This year will mark the first time that Indonesians have elected their president directly, and the field is more open than many observers had expected.

The two large secular-nationalist parties that have dominated the political scene are still leading the long-running vote count in the parliamentary elections, but their stranglehold on power has been broken.

With about two-thirds of the votes counted, the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle of President Megawati Sukarnoputri is running second, with only 19.5 percent. Leading the count is Golkar, the party ex-President Suharto used to maintain his grip on power, which is polling just over 21 percent. The vote count is expected to be completed at the end of this month.

Both of the large parties are expected to field presidential candidates, and both are in the process of looking at potential vice-presidential candidates from other parties. While they consider their options, a strong challenge has emerged from an unexpected quarter.

President Megawati's popular former security minister, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, is running against his former boss, and over the weekend it was announced that another highly respected former cabinet member, ex-social affairs minister Yusuf Kalla, will join him as his running mate.

Polls have shown that a Yudhoyono-Kalla ticket would run ahead of any other pairing of candidates.

Mr. Yudhoyono's newly-formed Democrat Party won only a little more than seven-and-a-half percent of the parliamentary vote, however, and observers say his party will have to broker a deal with one of the two large parties in the legislature, even if he himself becomes president.

"If they want to have a successful government they are going to have to share cabinet positions with the main parties, which automatically means that their cabinet might not be the cabinet that they wish to form," said Fauzi Ichsan, an analyst with Standard Chartered Bank in Jakarta.

Observers say the relatively weak showing by the two major political parties in the general elections, and Mr. Yudhoyono's emergence as a presidential probable, are likely to bring about significant changes in the politics and policies of one of the world's largest countries.