Papua violence mars Indonesian elections (2nd Lead)
Apr 9, 2009, 7:21 GMT
Jakarta/Jayapura, Indonesia - Five people were killed in Indonesia's rebellious Papua region as the country went to the polls Thursday for parliamentary elections.
A series of attacks by people with crude weapons and firearms in Papua on Wednesday and early Thursday marred an otherwise peaceful vote nationwide, Security Minister Widodo Adisucipto said, calling the violence 'a deliberate attempt to sabotage the elections.'
'We will take strong action to stabilize the situation,' Widodo said, adding that about 100 additional police were sent immediately to the region, where a poorly-armed separatist group has been active for decades.
Polls closed at midday (0500 GMT) in the sprawling archipelago nation of more than 17,000 islands spanning three time zones, but in some places voters were still queuing after noon.
More than 171 million of Indonesia's more than 230 million people were eligible to vote in the third general election since the 1998 downfall of autocrat Suharto, which ushered in an era of democratic reform.
At stake are 18,560 seats in national, provincial and district parliaments and 132 seats on the regional representatives council.
Thirty-eight political parties are contesting the polls, and six parties are fighting for seats in provincial and district councils in Aceh province.
The results from the polls will determine who can field a presidential candidate in a July election. A run-off would be held in September if no ticket wins a clear majority in that vote's first round.
As part of electoral reforms, voters for the first time have to tick on the ballot paper the party or the candidate of their choice, or both.
'I voted only the party,' said Rokayah, 62, who cast her ballot at a polling station in central Jakarta. 'I didn't choose any of the candidates because there are too many. I was confused and afraid I would make a mistake.'
Vice President Jusuf Kalla admitted that casting the ballot was not easy.
'Even we who understand find it difficult, let alone people who lack education,' he said after voting near his Jakarta home.
Political apathy among eligible voters also ran high, and many said they abstained because they did not get voting cards.
A final official tally would not be available until May 9, but results from so-called quick counts conducted by survey institutions based on samples of votes from polling stations were expected later Thursday.
Quick counts have been accurate in predicting winners of past elections.
Surveys indicated that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Democratic Party would win the most votes at more than 20 per cent.
Yudhoyono himself is a hands-on favourite to win the presidential election with his popularity rating above 60 per cent.
The General Elections Commission has come under fire for failing to handle the logistics better in the complicated polling process.
Observers cited serious problems, including slow delivery of ballot papers and voter lists with allegedly fictitious names, and there were concerns the ballot sheet is so large that voters might be confused.
Yudhoyono expressed optimism that the legislative elections would run without trouble, citing the smooth preparations ahead of the polling day.
His government has been credited with stabilizing the economy, improving security after a spate of deadly bombings blamed on Islamic militants and an aggressive campaign against corruption, seen as endemic as a result of Suharto's iron-fisted rule.