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Late checks on Indonesia poll lists ahead of vote

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Abdul Hafiz Anshary (C), the head of the General Election Commission (KPU), poses with presidential candidate Jusuf Kalla (2nd L) and his running mate Wiranto (L), and presidential candidate Megawati Sukarnoputri (2nd R) and her running mate Prabowo Subianto (R) after their meeting in Jakarta July 6, 2009.

Late checks on Indonesia poll lists ahead of vote

JAKARTA (Reuters) – The two challengers for Indonesia’s presidency started cross-checking electoral rolls on the eve of polling on Tuesday, after lodging complaints that the sprawling country’s voter lists were riddled with irregularities.

Opinion polls have consistently shown that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will trounce his rivals, winning a second term and a chance to quicken the pace of reform in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.

The objections to the voting process, led by Yudhoyono’s challengers, former president Megawati Sukarnoputri and Vice President Jusuf Kalla, are not expected to derail the election.

However, analysts said the complaints could be a tactic aimed at fanning public doubt about the credibility of the process and pave the way for the losing contestants to challenge the result.

Security was stepped up in the capital, Jakarta, and other parts of the country on Tuesday because of fears that wrangling over the credibility of the register of some 176.3 million voters could spark protests in the world’s third-largest democracy.

“People should not be confused, and this should not make the world view what is happening in our country as abnormal,” Yudhoyono told reporters late on Monday, urging his rivals not to act improperly ahead of the vote.

A victory for Yudhoyono would most likely bring a renewed push for reform to attract foreign investment, create jobs and drive economic, which has slowed from 6.1 percent in 2008 and is expected to come in at between 3 and 4 percent this year.

If he wins the first round with more than half the votes, on the back of his modest success in tackling graft and the best economic performance in a decade, stocks, bonds and the rupiah are likely to surge on hopes of a more ambitious reform plan in his next five-year term and beyond.

However, the atmosphere was tense in Papua, where extra police and special forces were on standby after recent violence linked to separatists in the remote province.

Papuans wearing traditional penis gourds looked on as booths were set up using traditional woven bags instead of ballot boxes.

A victory for Yudhoyono would most likely bring a renewed push for reform to attract foreign investment, create jobs and drive economic, which has slowed from 6.1 percent in 2008 and is expected to come in at between 3 and 4 percent this year.

“We hope to be able to see a continuation of the reforms that we already started,” Trade Minister Mari Pangestu told Reuters in an interview, adding that the new government would need to send “a strong signal that we are moving in the right direction”.

If Yudhoyono takes more than half of the votes in the vote there will be no need for a run-off with the runner-up. A clear picture of the result should emerge by around 2 p.m. (0700 GMT).

Analysts say a victory for Yudhoyono, widely known as “SBY”, would come on the back of his modest success in tackling graft and the best economic performance in a decade.

Stocks, bonds and the rupiah have rallied this year on the prospect of a Yudhoyono win, and analysts see them rising further on hopes for a heftier reform drive in his next five-year term.

The rupiah , the best-performing currency in Asia so far in 2009, eased 0.3 percent against the dollar in afternoon trade on Tuesday. Indonesian stocks, which are up 50 percent so far this year, were up about 1 percent

Indonesian sovereign bond prices have also rallied in the last few months, with yields set to fall further if foreign investors return after the presidential election, traders said.

Concern over the voting lists arose first in the run-up to a parliamentary election in April, when duplicate and fictitious names were found on rolls and some voters were not registered.

Tension over the issue was partly defused on Monday when key demands made by Kalla and Megawati were met, including their request to receive copies of the electoral rolls.

Indicating that Yudhoyono’s opponents were backing away from earlier suggestions they could ask for the poll to be postponed, Megawati on Tuesday urged her supporters to go out and vote.

But her running-mate, Prabowo Subianto, said he still believed there were a minimum of 10 million names with problems.

“We expect it could be potentially as many as 20 million names,” the former general told a news conference.

An economist at the Danareksa Institute played down the prospect of violence over the list dispute.

“I think the losing parties will complain but I don’t think they will challenge in a serious way,” said Purbaya Yudhi Sadewa.

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Iowa caucuses: Romney pips Santorum

 He finished just eight votes ahead of former senator Rick Santorum in the Midwest state of Iowa.
Ron Paul came third, while Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann settled into a second tier of candidates.
Rick Perry indicated he was suspending his campaign after finishing fifth.
The caucus meetings were the first time voters had a say in the race to face Democratic President Barack Obama in November’s presidential election.

Tuesday’s contest launched months of caucuses and primary elections in 50 states, Washington DC and other territories, culminating in the Republican National Convention in August where the party nominee will be formally anointed.
Iowa was not expected to settle the contest – John McCain, the eventual Republican nominee in 2008, came fourth in the state’s caucuses that year – but it will help shape the race for the White House.

The BBC’s Mark Mardell says that in the end, this result has to be good for Mitt Romney, achieving it in a state he hadn’t bothered to fight until the last few weeks.
‘Game on!’
Hours after caucuses closed, Iowa party chairman Matt Strawn announced that Mr Romney had won by just eight of the 122,255 votes cast.
“Governor Mitt Romney received 30,015 votes and senator Rick Santorum received 30,007 votes. Congratulations to governor Mitt Romney, winner of the 2012 caucuses. Congratulations to senator Rick Santorum for a very close second-place finish,” Mr Strawn said.
Earlier in the evening, Mr Romney kept his sights firmly trained on Mr Obama rather than engaging his Republican rivals or claiming victory.
“The gap between his promises four years ago and his performance is as great as anything I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said, before crying: “On to New Hampshire!”
As early results came out pointing to a close race, Mr Santorum declared “Game on!” He praised his faith and his family in a speech which marked his own entry to the national spotlight.

Mr Paul, a Texas congressman, finished third and vowed to continue onto New Hampshire, which holds a primary election next week.
“This momentum is going to continue,” he told a jubilant crowd of supporters. “We will go on, we will raise the money.”

Negative advertising
Finishing fifth, Texas Governor Rick Perry said he was returning to his home state in order to “determine whether there is a path forward for myself in this race”.Former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich, who saw a brief lead evaporate under a barrage of negative advertising last month, pledged to remain in the race and challenge Mr Romney, “a Massachusetts moderate”.
“We are not going to go out and run nasty ads,” said Mr Gingrich, who finished fourth.
“But I do reserve the right to tell the truth. And if the truth seems negative that may be more of a comment on his record than it is about politics.”
Mrs Bachmann, a Minnesota congresswoman who won the Iowa straw poll last summer, finished sixth, and urged voters not to let the media anoint a Republican nominee based solely on the Iowa results.
Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman was on the ballot, but did not campaign in Iowa.

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