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Monday, April 6, 2009

Campaign season closes

Political leaders wrap up their promises at final election rallies
By Lynn Lee, Indonesia Correspondent


JAKARTA: After three weeks of performance and promise-filled rallies across the country, Indonesia's election campaign has come to a close.

For the next three days, all parties will have to sit tight and not hold mass meetings, till 171 million voters go to the ballot box on Thursday.

Over the weekend, the country's leaders made their final speeches as popular bands and dancers entertained the crowds. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his Democratic Party wrapped up their campaign in Yogyakarta and Magelang, Central Java while Vice-President Jusuf Kalla and his Golkar Party did the same, in Bali and Padang, West Sumatra.

In Jakarta, the Bung Karno stadium was turned into a sea of red T-shirts and flags as around 70,000 supporters of former president Megawati Sukarnoputri gathered at a rally for her Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) last Saturday.

All the big guns - including leaders of the two new parties Gerindra and Hanura - stuck to similar rhetoric, claiming the current government had been slow to boost Indonesia's economic growth. They pledged to better use the country's resources and improve the welfare of the 234-million strong population, especially the poor.

Ms Megawati also shot down the government's 23 trillion rupiah (S$3 billion) cash handout scheme - which targeted 18 million poor families - as creating a 'beggar mentality' among Indonesians.

She later backed down, however, and said she was not calling for an end to the scheme.

Dr Yudhoyono in turn criticised her wavering stance, stressing that the money was to help families cope with fuel price hikes. He also took credit for his administration in the last five years, noting that peace had come to previously troubled-regions like Aceh, with more money now channelled to education.

'Now it is clear which leader and which party is the most consistent in advocating people's welfare,' he told a crowd in Surabaya last Friday.

Pollsters did not waver from earlier predictions - that Golkar, the Democratic Party and PDI-P would be big winners in the election. It led the Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI) to observe yesterday that the 'show of force' campaigns by all parties had not strengthened their chances at the polls.

Read the full story in Monday's edition of The Straits Times.

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