Polls open in Indonesian parliamentary elections

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) âÄî Voting began in Parliamentary elections Thursday that could determine if Indonesia’s president will have enough support to stay in office and push through aggressive economic and institutional reforms. Hours before the first polling stations opened in the easternmost province of Papua, separatist rebels attacked a police post in the provincial capital of Jayapura, leaving four attackers dead, police chief Maj. Gen. Bagus Ekodanto said. He said that the attackers also stabbed several motorcycle taxi drivers, killing two. With more than 170 million people registered to vote for the 560-member legislature âÄî and 11,000 candidates in the running from 38 political parties âÄî it’s sure to be a chaotic affair. But the outcome will determine who will qualify to run for president in July. The party or coalition that wins a fifth of the seats âÄî or 25 percent of the popular vote âÄî can nominate a candidate for that race. For President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democrat Party, passing that threshold in Thursday’s polls would mean he would no longer need to form an alliance with other parties, some seen to be less willing to tackle corruption, overhaul the judiciary and streamline bureaucracy. “At this moment it looks like he’s going to make it,” said Dede Oetomo, a political analyst from Airlangga University in the city of Surabaya. Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, has made tremendous strides since longtime dictator Suharto was ousted from power in 1998 and is often held up as a beacon of how Islam and democracy can go hand-in-hand. When Yudhoyono became the first directly elected leader in 2004, his party won just 7 percent of the popular vote, forcing him, eventually, to partner up with Golkar âÄî the former political machine of Suharto and the largest stakeholder in parliament. He also joined forces with a handful of Islamic parties that tried to push through unpopular laws governing everything from the way women dressed to the types of magazines that could be hawked on street corners. Opinion polls indicate the popularity of religious parties appears to be waning. “As long as these parties try to push through Islamic-based laws, they are going to keep losing support,” said Syafiie Maarif, an Islamic scholar. “They need to come up with a broader, policy-based platform, like fighting poverty.” Campaigns across the board were largely personality driven and policies have been broad and ill-defined, focusing on issues like the effect the global slowdown has had on the economy or the need to root out pervasive corruption. The Indonesian Survey Institute poll showed the Democratic Party would win 26 percent of the popular vote; the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle headed by former President Megawati Sukarnoputri 14 percent; and Golkar 13 percent. The four Islamic-based parties each came in at around 4 percent. The survey, based on interviews with 2,486 people, had a margin of error of 2.3 percentage points.