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Indonesia: Presidential Candidates Begin Final Campaign Push  - 2004-09-14

The campaign for the final round of Indonesia's presidential elections has kicked off, surrounded by heavy security following last week's bomb attack against the Australian Embassy. Most opinion polls show President Megawati Sukarnoputri trailing her former security minister, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The surveys were taken before the attack, which killed at least nine people.

Security has been tightened in Jakarta and across Indonesia as the country wraps up a six-month electoral process.

President Megawati Sukarnoputri has declared a state of full alert, as investigators continue to sift for evidence at the entrance to Australia's Embassy, the site of Thursday's deadly attack.

An analyst with Standard Chartered Bank, Fauzi Ichsan, notes that the bombing mostly hurt ordinary Muslim Indonesians. As a result, he says, it will not have the effect the terrorists wanted. "It pushes public opinion further and further away from Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism as a means to achieve jihad (holy war)," he said.

Mr. Ichsan says both President Megawati and her opponent, former Security Minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, are considered secularist and pro-security, so the bombing is not likely to affect the outcome of the election.

Some 150 million voters go to the polls Monday for the presidential run-off. It is the climax of six months of campaigning that has seen the election of the national parliament, regional assemblies and local councils. Ms. Megawati and Mr. Yudhoyono were the top two candidates in July's first round of presidential voting, beating three other candidates.

Electoral law restricts public rallies and outdoor events during this final campaign stretch. As a result, the candidates are seeking votes primarily through a series of televised appearances.

During the appearances, the candidates will present their platforms and answer questions from a panel of experts. But they will not appear on stage together.

It is the first time that Indonesians will choose a president by direct vote. Mr. Ichsan says this represents a major milestone in the transition to democracy after three decades of dictatorship under former President Suharto. "If we can go through this one final part of the election peacefully, Indonesia will enter into a new era of stability and growth," he says. "It's basically a new chapter of history."

Official results from across the vast archipelago are not expected for several weeks. But several organizations say they will provide a quick count within days, based on statistical samplings of voting patterns.