Accessibility links

Indonesia's Presidential Campaign Begins - 2004-06-01

Campaigning for Indonesia's July 5 presidential elections formally got under way Tuesday - with a rally through the capital. This is the first time Indonesians will directly vote for their president and the public is already lining up behind one of the five candidates.

The latest public poll published Tuesday morning shows the Indonesia's former security minister, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, with a commanding lead over the four other challengers for the presidency. But analysts say this is just the beginning of the month-long campaign period and much can change.

Campaigning formally started Tuesday morning with a ceremony in the shadow of Indonesia's independence monument in Jakarta. Then candidates' convoys set off to different parts of the city to carry the message to the electorate.

One campaign truck carried singing supporters of the former head of the armed forces, General Wiranto - who is running second in public opinion.

Most polls place the incumbent, President Megawati Sukarnoputri, in third place. She is apparently suffering from public discontent with the faltering economy, endemic corruption and perceptions of increased insecurity.

All three of the front-runners are campaigning on broad secular-nationalist platforms, bolstered in many cases by vice-presidential running mates drawn from Indonesia's influential moderate Muslim establishment.

Most observers expect the election to hinge on personalities rather than policies. The fight could become bitter if no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote on July 5, forcing a run-off in September.

This is the first time that the president has been elected directly, as the legislature previously selected the president.

Reformists hope the election will give a mandate to the winner so that the new leader will have an easier time restarting the stalled reform process. Indonesia was ruled by a succession of authoritarian leaders or dictators until 1998 when violent protests over the economy and corruption forced then-president Suharto from power after 30 years.