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Front-Runner in Indonesia's Presidential Race Calls for Reforms - 2004-05-14

The front-runner in the race for the presidency in Indonesia is calling for reform and promising a new style of presidency if he is elected.

Former General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is riding high in the polls. On Friday he promised to revive the spirit of reform, called reformasi, that ended the reign of disgraced president Suharto six years ago, but which has since lost momentum.

"I believe what we need now as a nation is a second wave of reforms, which aims to transform the great spirit of reformasi into our systems of governance," he said.

On July 5, Indonesians will for the first time directly elect their president. In legislative elections last month, voters clearly showed their disenchantment with the old order.

Speaking to a conference of leading Indonesian and foreign intellectuals, Mr. Yudhoyono gave a clear indication that he intends to capitalize on that discontent.

"Our people want democracy, but they also want tangible results, jobs, food on the table, education for their children, health care, safe streets, and so on," he said. "All these things can be delivered by way of good governance."

Mr. Yudhoyono has two main challengers: the incumbent President Megawati Sukarnoputri, and General Wiranto, the former head of the armed forces and candidate of the largest political party, Golkar.

Analysts say there are few obvious ideological or policy differences among the leading candidates. They say the race for the leadership of the world's largest Muslim nation and third largest democracy is likely to come down to personalities.

But whoever wins, observers say Indonesian politics will change permanently with the direct election of the president.