Indonesian Challenger Set for Elections

A former general who has pledged to get tough on terrorism and fix the economy was headed for a landslide win over incumbent President Megawati Sukarnoputri (search ) in Indonesia's landmark elections Monday, according to a nationwide sampling of votes.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (search ), preferred by Washington because he's seen as stronger in the war on terror, held a commanding lead in partial official results and in an unofficial survey of voting. Megawati, however, has not conceded and said she would await the full official results, which are expected in about two weeks' time.

Monday's voting was the second round in Indonesia's first-ever direct presidential election and a key step in the turbulent transition to democracy in the world's most populous Muslim nation since the downfall of former dictator Suharto in 1998.

Yudhoyono was expected to win 61.2 percent of the vote compared with 38.8 percent for Megawati in the run-off election, according to the survey conducted by the Washington-based National Democratic Institute (search ), the international arm of the U.S. Democratic Party. The figure has a margin of error of 1.1 percentage points.

"We are facing a new era, the next president is Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono by quite a wide margin," Rizal Mallarangeng, from NDI's local partner, the Institute for Social and Economic Research Education and Information, told Metro TV.

The "Quick Count" system employed by NDI predicts the results of national elections by counting more than 280,000 votes cast at 1,400 selected voting stations.

Similar polls by NDI have accurately predicted results in dozens of elections around the world, including Indonesia's parliamentary elections in April and its first round of presidential elections in July.

Yudhoyono, known universally by his initials SBY, won the first round in July but did not receive an overall majority, requiring Monday's run-off vote for the five-year term.

Official returns from the General Election Commission, with just under 10 percent of the votes counted, also showed Yudhoyono taking a significant lead with 58.8 percent to Megawati's 41.1 percent. Turnout was estimated at between 147 million and 152 million voters.

More than 140,000 police officers were deployed across the country amid warnings that the Al Qaeda-linked militants blamed for a deadly Sept. 9 suicide bombing at the Australian Embassy in Jakarta were planning more attacks.

"I voted for Yudhoyono because I think he is smart and good-looking," said Siti Komariah, a 53-year-old housewife at a polling booth in Jakarta. "I want the country to be safer, I want prices to be lower and I want everyone to have the opportunity to go to school."

As of early afternoon Monday, when voting booths closed, there were no reports of election- related violence. The election season has so far gone off without violence, and analysts say a peaceful political transition in Indonesia will be further evidence that democracy and Islam are compatible.

Suharto, 83, voted near his home in central Jakarta. The former dictator, who has avoided trials for corruption because of alleged ill health, looked frail but healthy. He said nothing to reporters.

Yudhoyono, who served as Megawati's security minister before resigning in March to contest the elections, was leading by about 20 percentage points in opinion polls going into the elections.

Hundreds of supporters shouted "Long live the new president!" as Yudhoyono left the booth where he cast his ballot.

Megawati voted along with her family in Jakarta. "I'm not nervous. Let's just wait for the results," she said.

Both candidates have maintained strong links with the country's business, political and military elite, which has been riven with corruption. Their stated policies differ little, and surveys have said most people would vote on the basis of each candidate's personality.

Megawati, who is the daughter of the country's founding father, Sukarno, and Yudhoyono are practicing Muslims, but have a firmly secular outlook.

Both candidates have promised to tackle terrorism, but Yudhoyono, who attended officer training college in the United States, is seen in Washington as a more active participant in the war on terror.

The Bush administration is concerned about Al Qaeda (search) getting a foothold in this strategically vital country of 13,000 islands straddling the confluence of the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

The country has been hit by three major attacks by Muslim terrorists during Megawati's tenure, including the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, most of them foreign tourists.

Yudhoyono, 55, has said his priorities are fixing the economy, which is growing much slower than Indonesia's neighbors; cracking down on rampant graft; and providing jobs for the country's 210 million people.

Megawati, 57, became president in 2001 after Parliament impeached her predecessor, Abdurrahman Wahid (search), on charges of incompetence. She had been serving as Wahid's deputy.

She has been credited with restoring relative calm after the political, social and economic chaos that marred the Wahid years, but critics say she has failed to address graft or create jobs.

Once an icon of Indonesia's reform movement and widely popular among the country's legions of poor, Megawati is now perceived by many to be aloof and uncaring.