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Presidential Elections Begin in Indonesia

Approximately 170 million Indonesians are going to the polls to choose their next president. During the campaign there have been sporadic incidents of violence and some charges of fraud but overall it has been a free and peaceful process in a young democracy.

For just the second time in history, Indonesians Wednesday morning began going to the polls to directly elect their president.

Not only is this election expected to help strengthen the young democracy, it will be the end of an era for Indonesian politics.

Sunny Tanuwidjaja with the Center for Strategic and International Studies says all three candidates are at the end of their political careers.

"We are experiencing a change in political generation this is the last election where the old faces will be competing we are going to have a whole new ball game in 2014," said Sunny Tanuwidjaja.

Democratic Party candidate President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who won the first direct election in 2004, hopes to win more than 50 percent of the vote to prevent a run-off election.

The former general leads in opinion polls with over 60 percent approval ratings, in large part because of his stewardship of the economy and attempts to rein in corruption. Despite a global economic downturn, Indonesia's economy is expected to grow by four percent this year

His strongest opponent is former President Megawati Sukarnoputri. Parliament elected her president in 2001, after her Democratic Party of Struggle won a majority of seats. She lost her re-election bid in 2004.

Ms. Megawati is the daughter of President Sukarno, the country's first president and leader of Indonesia's independence movement. She is running as a champion of the poor.

The third candidate is current Vice-President Jusuf Kalla, who heads the Golkar Party. Mr. Kalla was also a cabinet minister in President Megawati's administration. He portrays himself as more decisive than President Yudhoyono.

After hearing complaints from opposition parties about possible voter suppression at the polls, the election commission has decided to allow voters to cast a ballot if they present a valid citizen identification card.

Official election results may not be known for days, after ballots are counted across the country's 17,000 islands.