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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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Electric cars win hype, staying power questioned

Electric cars win hype, staying power questioned

LONDON (Reuters) – Electric cars are riding high, as incentives and new models make them a realistic option, but the fresh attention may highlight flaws compared with gasoline and alternatives such as biofuels.

The attention rankles with some in the biofuel industry, whose own hype was abruptly halted by a glut of production in 2007, subsequent bankruptcies and a fall from grace after a link was drawn — which they dispute — between biofuels and spiralling food prices and rising hunger.

Gasoline may beat off both alternatives for decades as the least-worst option, with wider adoption of more efficient conventional cars helping to curb carbon emissions and oil dependence.

The uncertainty is striking for a $5-6 trillion global auto and fuel supply market, where there is agreement only that the number of cars will keep rising, perhaps doubling to 2 billion by 2050.

The momentum is with electricity, following an oil price spike in 2008, lavish government incentives and a crippling downturn across the wider car industry. Last week the United States finalised fuel efficiency standards, following similar rules in Europe.

Green cars grabbed centre stage at auto shows this year in New York, Geneva and Detroit, including all-battery cars, hybrid varieties that switch between electric and gasoline, and small, more fuel-efficient conventional cars.

EXPENSIVE

But battery electric vehicles (EVs) are expensive.

Mitsubishi Motors and Nissan Motor Co last week announced prices for their i-MiEV and Leaf battery-only electric cars, in production already or about to debut, at 3.98 million yen ($42,520) and 3.76 million yen respectively before state subsidies, several times the cost of equivalent cars.

Reality bites with driving ranges of about 100 miles (160.9 km), far less than for a petrol car which U.S. customers expect to exceed 300 miles.

And electric cars have to contend with the multi-billion-dollar cost of a new charging infrastructure, although they benefit from running costs at about a quarter of gasoline at today’s prices, according to electric car advocates.

“The electric vehicle sector certainly has momentum, but it’s questionable whether it has the legs for the longer term, at least at the moment, and whether it has enough scale,” said Peter Wells at Cardiff University’s Centre for Automotive Industry Research, who expected big cost reductions.

Success depends on drivers accepting limitations on range and on re-charging time, which takes several hours, said Pierre Gaudillat, research and development manager at the UK-funded Carbon Trust.

“I don’t see any major breakthrough on the horizon,” he said. Customers may have to compromise on what they expect from a car, perhaps tailored for commuting, and from ownership, for example buying the car but renting the expensive battery.

Hybrid gasoline-electric cars overcome the range problem but are still pricey because of their complexity and battery costs.

Sales of hybrid-electric vehicles are expected to reach about 1.3 percent of an estimated 67 million light vehicle sales this year, according to the information company J.D. Power and Associates.

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Japan PM to call election for Aug 30 – party official

in.reuters.com

Japan PM to call election for Aug 30 – party official

TOKYO -july 13 – Japan’s embattled Prime Minister Taro Aso is expected to call a general election for Aug. 30, a ruling party official told reporters on Monday.

Public broadcaster NHK said earlier Aso had reached agreement on the poll timing in a meeting with executives from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The LDP official said the lower house would be dissolved on July 21.

Some Japanese media questioned whether the election timing was a done deal, noting opposition to the move was strong inside both Aso’s LDP and the junior party in the ruling coalition.

Moves within the LDP to dump Aso were expected to grow after the ruling party and its junior partner lost their majority in a Tokyo assembly vote on Sunday. The opposition Democratic Party won the most seats.

A Democratic Party victory in the national parliament’s lower house would end half a century of nearly unbroken rule by the business-friendly LDP and raise the chance of resolving political deadlocks as Japan tries to recover from its worst recession since World War Two.

Aso told ruling party lawmakers on Sunday he planned to dissolve the lower house as early as Tuesday and was set to unveil that plan on Monday, Kyodo news agency had reported earlier.

Many in the LDP and its junior coalition partner, the New Komeito, are opposed to holding an election too soon after their defeat in the Tokyo poll, seen as a barometer for a national election due by October.

“It’s clear if parliament is dissolved now, the result would be the same as the Tokyo election,” the New Komeito’s policy chief, Natsuo Yamaguchi, told a TV Asahi programme.

LDP executive Nobuteru Ishihara said on Sunday that while a decision on when to call an election was up to Aso, time was needed to re-unite the party, suffering from voter angst over the economy and longer-term worries such as growing welfare costs.

The Democrats, hoping to intensify pressure on the ruling bloc, are considering submitting a no-confidence motion against Aso in the lower house.

The decade-old Democratic Party has capitalised on the LDP’s falling popularity in recent years, taking control of the upper house with smaller allies in 2007.

An opposition win in the general election could smooth policy implementation by resolving deadlocks in the divided parliament, but some analysts say the Democrats’ large spending plans could inflate public debt and push up government bond yields.

INTERNAL STRIFE

The long-ruling LDP has been racked by internal strife, with Aso critics openly urging an early party leadership vote to replace him while his allies defend his right to call a general election at a time of his choosing.

“There will be confusion inside the LDP. People will try to oust Aso and he will try to stay on,” said Keio University political science professor Yasunori Sone.

“It is not clear if they can oust him and if they did, would support for the LDP increase? Not much,” Sone said. “Chances the LDP could win under a new leader are very small. That has become clearer as a result of this Tokyo election.”

Possible candidates to replace Aso include Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare Yoichi Masuzoe, 60, a former academic and TV commentator seen as competent and hardworking.

But Aso is Japan’s third premier to take office since Junichiro Koizumi led the party to a huge win in a 2005 election, so voters might not be impressed with another change at the top.

Japan’s biggest opposition party has its own headache.

Democratic Party leader Yukio Hatoyama has apologised for the fact that some people listed as his political donors were dead.

Hatoyama took over as party leader in May after his predecessor stepped down to keep a separate fundraising scandal from hurting the party’s chances at the polls.

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