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Polls Close in Historic Indonesian Election - 2004-09-20


In Indonesia, polls have closed in the run-off presidential election. It is the first time Indonesians have directly chosen their president and Monday's vote is viewed as an important step in the country's transition to democracy.

There were only two candidates on the ballot, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who beat out three other rivals in the first round of the presidential vote in July.

Frontrunner Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono expressed confidence over the results. He says he thinks he will win if there were no irregularities in the election.

Monday's election was mostly quiet and orderly. Voting proceeded quickly at most polling stations.

A retired office manager named Sofyan Miin Nur says he is pleased to be able to vote. "Today's election is better than the usual election because [it is] the people themselves that elect the president."

Yusman bin Jamin, a small businessman in the garment industry, reflects general voter concern over economic issues, security and cleaning up government. "I hope for the next president that this country would be safe, and then there would be no corruption because corruption is bad for the country," he says.

Lidya Sri Mulyahati is a homemaker who came with her two school-age daughters to vote. She voices similar concerns. "For me the most important thing is security, and then the availability of employment." She says she wants an end to terrorist attacks like the truck bomb 11 days ago at the Australian Embassy. The attack killed nine people and wounded more than 170, most of them Indonesians.

Authorities have arrested four suspects in the attack, which they blame on extremists seeking to establish an Islamic state in the region.

It is the third such attack in two years. And it has angered many people in this predominantly Muslim nation. Komarudin Umar, a motorbike taxi driver says the bombing was the act of immoral people. "They are terrorists and they are not Muslim people," he says. "I curse those actions."

Mr. Komarudin says he hopes the next president will crush terrorism and will bring improvements to the economy, unemployment and the education system.

Thousands of observers have fanned across the country to monitor the elections, which they have praised as orderly and evidence of growing voter maturity in Indonesia's six year-old transition to democracy.

This is the first time Indonesians are directly voting for their president. Since the fall of the Suharto dictatorship in 1998, the president has been elected by the legislature.

Speaking to reporters Monday, President Megawati predicted early results. She says if the country remains aware, the election process and vote counting can continue safely, orderly and peacefully. Official results are due in two weeks, but several polling groups say they will announce a projected winner within days.

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