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Japan PM woes persist before vote; party in disarray

in.reuters.com

Japan PM woes persist before vote; party in disarray

TOKYO- july 14 – Japan’s ruling bloc voted down a no-confidence motion against embattled Prime Minister Taro Aso on Tuesday, but chaos deepened within his party as fears grew of a historic defeat in a national election next month.

A loss for Aso’s coalition in the Aug. 30 general election would end half a century of nearly unbroken rule by the pro-business ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), struggling to revive the economy with massive stimulus spending.

The LDP’s woes have raised the chances of the opposition Democratic Party taking control of the lower house and breaking policy deadlocks in parliament, where opposition parties already control the upper chamber and can delay bills.

The Democrats, trying to make the most of the LDP’s falling popularity before the election, submitted a no-confidence motion in the lower house against Aso’s cabinet by criticising its economic policies.

“The cabinet has been spending large amounts of money for the economy but we can only think that it was aimed at winning support for the election,” said Democratic Party leader Yukio Hatoyama. “The measures won’t improve people’s livelihoods.”

As expected, the motion was rejected by the ruling bloc’s majority, although a non-binding but embarrassing censure motion against Aso was adopted by the opposition-controlled upper house. The Democrats plan to boycott debate in parliament before Aso dissolves the lower house early next week.

The Democrats hoped that by forcing LDP lawmakers to back Aso, it would make it harder for his critics in the party to persist in trying to dump him ahead of the election.

Alarmed by falling public support for Aso, lawmakers in the long-ruling party have openly called for him to quit ahead of the election and bring forward a vote for the party leadership set for September.

PARTY DISARRAY

Former LDP Secretary-General Hidenao Nakagawa repeated calls for a leadership change, but Aso has refused to quit.

“We must fight now and it is as a matter of course that we fight united,” Aso told a meeting of lawmakers. “Unless we are united, we won’t be able to fight well.”

Japan has had four LDP leaders in four years and voters may not be impressed with another change at the top. The party lacks an obvious successor who could guarantee a jump in popularity and boost the LDP’s chances in the national poll.

The Democratic Party was not without its own headaches after party leader Yukio Hatoyama apologised for the fact that some people listed as his political donors were dead.

The Democrats’ ambitious spending plans have also come under scrutiny from financial analysts, with some saying policies such as cash allowances for families and free highway tolls could lead to more government bond issuance and push up yields.

But domestic media have focused on the disarray spreading within the LDP. On Tuesday, its chief election strategist, Makoto Koga, offered to quit, although the party’s No. 2 said he would not accept the resignation.

LDP lawmaker Koichi Kato said party leaders had yet to reach consensus on whether to hold a meeting of lawmakers from both chambers of parliament, sought by many of Aso’s critics.

“The secretary-general talked at great length at the end,” he told reporters after a party gathering. “But then a lot of people started to leave the room and in the end there was no conclusion.”

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Indonesia’s Yudhoyono set for one-round election win

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President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s campaign team flash the victory sign in Cikeas, West Java in Jakarta July 8, 2009.

Indonesia’s Yudhoyono set for one-round election win

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Indonesian presidential candidate Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (C), his wife Kristiani Yudhoyono (R) and his son Edi Baskoro (L) show their ballot papers at a polling station in the Cikeas district in Bogor July 8, 2009.

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A man casts his ballot for the Indonesian presidential election in Jakarta July 8, 2009.

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A voter dips his finger with ink at a polling station in Cikeas district in Bogor July 8, 2009.

BOGOR, Indonesia (Reuters) – President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono looked set to win a second term on Wednesday as provisional election results showed there would be no need for a run-off vote, opening the way for a period of quickening reform.

“I think it’s clear now that Yudhoyono has won in one round,” said Kevin O’Rourke, a Jakarta-based political risk analyst.

Political allies flocked to Yudhoyono’s home in Bogor, on Java island, to congratulate the former army general as “quick counts” of votes cast across the archipelago of 226 million people rolled in.

“Continue!” they chanted, using Yudhoyono’s campaign slogan.

With about 94 percent of the LSI polling agency’s sample of votes counted, Yudhoyono’s tally stood at a commanding 60.8 percent. He will need to secure half of the votes to avoid a run-off with the nearest of his two challengers.

The official verdict on the election will come later this month, but “quick count” results have proved extremely reliable in the past.

The election, only the second direct vote for a president in Indonesia, will determine the pace of reform over the next five years and cement the country’s transition to democracy.

Analysts expect that in a second term Yudhoyono would quicken the pace and widen the scope of reforms in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy to attract badly needed foreign investment, create jobs and shore up flagging economic growth.

Indonesian stocks, bonds and the rupiah have rallied this year on the prospect of a Yudhoyono win, and analysts now see them rising further on the results. Jakarta markets were closed for the election.

A decade ago, Indonesia was the sick man of Asia. After 32 years of rule by Suharto, who oversaw a system of entrenched corruption and nepotism, it stood on the brink of political, social and financial collapse.

Yudhoyono’s government has since brought political stability, peace and the best economic performance in a decade. Today, some see the country on another brink — of economic take-off and joining the emerging “BRIC” economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China.

Nevertheless, the world’s most-populous Muslim nation is hardly problem-free: corruption is widespread, infrastructure is in dire need of an overhaul and millions live in poverty.

CHALLENGERS WAY BEHIND

Analysts say Yudhoyono is likely to pick more technocrats, and fewer politicians from among his coalition partners, to fill his next cabinet so that the government can promote reform.

“He will try to do more to attract investment but at the same time he will be more serious about eradicating corruption. He will prioritize good governance and economic growth,” said political scientist Aleksius Jemadu at Pelita Harapan University.

“He will reform the bureaucracy to make it easier for investors to come here. He will make sure some of the red tape and the bureaucratic obstacles will be removed.”

The LSI vote count showed that Yudhoyono’s challengers, former president Megawati Sukarnoputri and Vice President Jusuf Kalla, were trailing at around 27 and 13 percent, respectively.

Megawati and Kalla adopted a more nationalist tone than Yudhoyono in their campaigns, promising to squeeze more from the country’s rich resources to pay for pro-poor policies.

A controversy over voter lists marred the run-up to the election, with the teams of Yudhoyono’s two rivals complaining about millions of duplicate names and even the names of dead people and children on the electoral rolls.

There remains a small risk that the pair could use the doubt sown about the credibility of the vote to challenge the result.

U.S. President Barack Obama, who lived in Indonesia as a child, is expected to visit the country later this year — a trip that would warm ties that both countries say they plan to raise to the level of “comprehensive partnership.

However, U.S. trade officials and businesses complain about a range of protectionist policies, including judicial and bureaucratic bias favoring Indonesian firms, as well as rampant corruption that distorts the economic playing field.

(Additional reporting by Ed Davies, Sunanda Creagh, Olivia Rondonuwu and Telly Nathalia in Jakarta; Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Sara Webb)

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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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