Unofficial results in Indonesia's legislative elections show that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Democratic Party is in the lead. Campaigning has been marred by concerns about vote buying, fraud and some regional violence. But the elections mark a transition for the young democracy.

As election organizers opened the polls here in Jakarta, Indonesia's capital, there were crowds at this polling station.  Thursday's [April 9] vote is the country's third legislative election since the 1998 fall of Suharto, who ruled the country for more than 30 years.

Voters faced many choices

Though the process here was orderly, voters faced a myriad of choices and some needed help fitting their large ballots into skinny slots in the voting boxes.

Lwan Sukawana, 44, voiced his complaint.

"It is a bit more difficult, especially for ordinary people like housewives. Before we only chose among a few candidates, but today there are so many options and we have to make too many marks on the ballot," Lwan said.

Despite the challenges and criticism the government faced in organizing the massive election, earlier concerns about regional violence, vote-rigging and vote-buying were largely forgotten.

First direct election for potential leaders

This is the first election where Indonesians were allowed to directly vote for potential leaders rather than just their parties, leading to tens of thousands of candidates running for office.

The parties that win at least 25 percent of the vote or 20 percent of legislative seats will be allowed to field candidates for the more important July presidential election.

Eric Bjornlund is a senior election advisor with the Carter Center, one of several groups monitoring the election. He says despite concerns the new rules could bring challenges to vote counts, the restructuring shows Indonesia's democracy is maturing.

"This creates some possibility for confusion among voters and some possibilities for controversy," noted Bjornlund. "But, this is all to be expected and part of sorting out the kind of election system that will provide the kind of accountability and representations that Indonesians want."

Exit polls show ruling party ahead

Although official results will not be announced for some days, exit polls indicate President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Democratic Party has likely won the most votes, followed by former President Megawati Sukarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle and Golkar, the former party of Suharto.

Sunny Tanuwidjaja, a researcher at Jakarta's Centre for Strategic and International Studies, says the elections mark a transition for Indonesian politics.

"Although in 1999 we had an election, some would consider it not counted. So, we believe in 2004 we do it pretty successfully and now in 2009 we do a second real direct election in democracy. So, I think if we do pretty well on this, I think we are on the right track towards democratic consolidation," Sunny said. 

Country's democratic transition praised

Indonesia is Southeast Asia's biggest economy but many Indonesians still live in poverty.

Although Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim democracy, Islamic parties were only making, at the most, modest gains as Indonesians show more concern about down-to-earth problems like society and the economy.

Nonetheless, Indonesia's successful transition to democracy is viewed as a model for many countries in the region and the Muslim world.