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Ex-general leading in Indonesia

Published Aug. 28, 2005

A former general who has promised to uphold civilian rule appears to have easily defeated President Megawati Sukarnoputri in Indonesia's presidential election, a nationwide sampling of votes indicates Monday.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is expected to win 61 percent of the vote, compared with 39 percent for Megawati in the runoff election, according to the survey by the Washington-based National Democratic Institute.

"There could be a shift of a couple of percentage points, but the count is pretty stable," said Paul Rowland, the executive director of the institute in Indonesia. The survey, called a "quick count," is based on votes cast at 2,000 polling places nationwide.

Yudhoyono, 55, would become Indonesia's sixth president since independence in 1945, and the fourth since the fall of the authoritarian leader Suharto in 1998.

Monday's voting, well organized and peaceful, was the final round in the first direct balloting for president in Indonesia.

The results suggest that Indonesians are yearning for change after three years of lackluster leadership from Megawati, who presided over an anemic economy and during whose term a homegrown radical Islamic group carried out three terror attacks.

Yudhoyono presented himself as a man of competence who could set things right, though he gave few details of what he would do. He pledged to continue the civilian rule that was established after Suharto's ouster, and was viewed as more of a reformer than Megawati, who largely practiced status quo politics.

An estimated 150-million Indonesians were registered to vote. Thousands of domestic and foreign observers watched the voting, from Aceh in the northwest to Papua in the east. They reported few disruptions.

As counting proceeded late Monday night, Yudhoyono said: "It is time for reconciliation. I acknowledged during this competition that there is distance between the supporters of Megawati and myself. I expect we have to be more united in the near future to face a national challenge of building a better Indonesia."

In Jakarta much of the voting was completed by 11 a.m. Polls closed at 1 p.m., and less than an hour later the results were known at some polling places.

Those who voted for Megawati seemed conciliatory. "I hope SBY will fulfill his promise to the people," said Ceisar Saragih, 27, referring to the former general by his initials, as many Indonesians do. "I hope he does not pressure people with his military stick."

Yudhoyono won a first round of the election on July 5. But he failed to win the more than 50 percent required for a first-round victory against Megawati and three other candidates. His strong showing in the runoff will probably lead to a change in Indonesian politics.

The general's political rise was swift. He was the security minister in Megawati's Cabinet, and left only in March. His entrance into the presidential race was predicated on the sense that he did not need a major political party to support him.

He was backed only by a small new party, the Democratic Party, and his gamble worked.