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Indonesians Prepare for First Direct Presidential Elections - 2004-09-19

Indonesians are preparing to go to the polls Monday in the country's first-ever democratic presidential election. Economic issues like jobs, prices and corruption are foremost among voter concerns, although a recent bomb attack killing nine people has overshadowed the election.

More than 150 million registered voters are going to a half-million polling stations Monday to choose between President Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of Indonesia's founding father Sukarno, and her former security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

It is the first time Indonesians will choose their president by direct vote. Previously, the president was chosen by parliament.

Mr. Yudhoyono, a retired army general, and Ms. Megawati beat out three other candidates in the first round voting in July. These followed parliamentary and local elections in April.

Dozens of observers groups are monitoring thousands of polling stations across the country. One of these is the U.S.-based Carter Center.

Organizer Sophie Khan says its observers have been impressed with the preparations.

"The National Election Commission has been doing quite a good job," she said. "It's been getting better with each election. And in general we've been finding that things have been going reasonably well."

Ms. Khan says although there is some voter fatigue, she expects a high turnout.

The run-up to the election was marred by a bomb attack at the Australian embassy in Jakarta in which nine people were killed and more than 170 were wounded.

Authorities have arrested several suspects in the case, and Police Chief Dai Bachtiar says security is tight for the voting.

"We have increased security to the maximum on all public facilities and other important installations we think might be a target," he said.

General Bachtiar told reporters Saturday that some 200,000 policemen are on duty across the country, backed by an equal number of soldiers.

Final results are not expected for weeks but polling groups say that within days they can project a winner based on statistical samples of polling stations.