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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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UK’s Brown calls on Afghan army to pull its weight

in.reuters.com

UK’s Brown calls on Afghan army to pull its weight

LONDON – Afghanistan needs to do far more to make its troops available on the ground if a U.S.-British offensive to secure territory ahead of elections is to succeed, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Thursday.

Answering questions before a parliamentary committee, Brown repeatedly made the point that he did not think Afghanistan was pulling its weight and said he had spoken to President Hamid Karzai to try to address the situation.

Karzai told Brown this week he would increase the number, but did not say when or by how many.

“I’m very clear that the Afghan army has got to do more,” Brown said, arguing that any strategy to clear and hold large swathes of territory in the south ahead of a presidential election in August would hinge on Afghan forces.

“I’m very clear that where we are in Helmand, we need the complement of more Afghan troops and police. And I’m also clear that we have a role to play, and it will be a continuing role after the election, for some of our troops to mentor and train the Afghan security forces.”

He said Britain, which has about 9,000 troops in Helmand, having boosted the number for a pre-election offensive, would review its numbers after the poll, and possibly in October, if the vote goes to a second round.

But more immediately, he said there was not enough support from Afghanistan’s side to back up the efforts being made by Britain and the United States. If Afghan communities were to be kept safe, it meant Afghanistan stepping up to the plate.

It is a point U.S. military commanders have also made in recent weeks, but which Brown has taken up on a political level at a time when he is under pressure at home to justify why Britain is still fighting in Afghanistan after eight years.

“We have been asking the Afghan national army through President Karzai to make available more Afghan troops on the ground,” he said.

“It would be by far the best way of moving forward if once ground is taken by our troops, then local Afghan troops and police are there on the ground … There are troops available and I believe they should be in Helmand for this campaign.”

The prime minister was also dismissive of the size of the Afghan forces, saying they would have to be substantially expanded if they were ever going to be capable of keeping control in a country the size of Afghanistan.

“Our ability to defeat a terrorist threat depends not only on what we can contribute militarily, but on what we can achieve by civilian as well as military effort in training the Afghan army,” he said.

“Which will have to be higher than 130,000 (soldiers), by the way. I mean, it’s 80,000 at the moment, and the plan is 130,000, but I think everybody is in no doubt that for a territory that is as big as Afghanistan, we will have to train any army to a higher number than that.”

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Few rally for Anwar as Malaysia trial delayed

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Malaysia’s opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim waves before he leaves the courthouse in Kuala Lumpur July 8, 2009.

Few rally for Anwar as Malaysia trial delayed

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Just a handful of people turned out to cheer Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim at his latest court appearance as a new poll said government reforms were popular, which may show Anwar’s influence is waning.

Anwar denounced the trial for sodomy which had been due to start on Wednesday as a “despicable and desperate” move by the government to remove him from politics after the judge said he would delay it and hear applications from lawyers on July 15.

On an overcast day in the Malaysian capital, around a hundred black-clad opposition supporters shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) and “reformasi” (reform), pushed into the court complex but there were no clashes with police, who heavily outnumbered them.

The protesters were far fewer than the thousands who thronged court appearances in 1998 at the height of the Asian financial crisis after Anwar was dismissed as deputy prime minister, and charged with sodomy and corruption in a case lasting 14 months.

“It is not as tension-filled as before. It is almost as if people are used to seeing this situation and frankly, I am tired of this case,” said Mohd Amir Hamza, a shopkeeper who watched the arrival of Anwar and photographed him with his mobile phone.

The judge said on Wednesday that he would hear applications for dismissal of the case, discovery of evidence by the defense and to set a new date for the trial on July 15 after Anwar’s lawyers said they needed more time to prepare.

Anwar, 61, wearing a grey coat and fawn shirt and accompanied by his wife, told reporters after the hearing that the government was again persecuting him in a bid to maintain its 51-year grip on power in this Southeast Asian country of 27 million people.

“UMNO (the lead government coalition party) political leaders will resort to a repeat of this same game after seeing all their cards … are not enough to contain the tide of people wanting change,” he said.

If found guilty in the court where a judge sits alone, Anwar could face 20 years in jail, effectively ending his career.

The National Front government, led by the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), stumbled to its worst election losses in 2008, losing its two-thirds parliamentary majority and seeing five of 13 states fall to the opposition, a record haul.

Since then the National Front has lost a series of state and parliamentary by-elections forcing the government to switch prime ministers, appointing Najib Razak, the son of Malaysia’s second post-independence leader, to head the government in April.

POPULAR REFORMS FROM NEW PM

In his first 100 days in office, Najib has announced an ambitious set of reforms, aimed at boosting foreign investment in this export-dependent country whose economy is expected by the government to contract up to five percent this year.

Last week he unveiled a series of measures to open up the economy, risking the ire of the majority Malay population who saw some of their economic privileges removed.

But a poll published on Wednesday showed Najib appeared to have gained traction for the government and his reforms had won widespread approval.

Najib’s personal popularity rating surged to 65 percent from 42 percent in mid-May, according to a poll from the independent Merdeka Center, and 60 percent of the 1,062 people questioned approved of the reforms.

Ibrahim Suffian, head of the polling body, said Najib began his premiership with lower ratings but had gained ground by initiating economic measures such as his economic liberalization measures.

Najib has also attempted to address ethnic and socio-economic issues by introducing an inclusive “1Malaysia” policy to promote improved relations between the majority Malays and ethnic Chinese and Indians.

“Najib has created new political capital by these measures but how well he can hold up his support depends on how he delivers, specifically on two key reforms which are at the top of the respondents agenda, namely the economy and ethnic equality,” said Ibrahim.

(Writing by David Chance; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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