Page last updated at 10:12 GMT, Monday, 16 March 2009

Indonesia poll campaigning starts

Supporters of the Nahdlatul Ummah Party cheers during a rally in Jakarta
About 171 million Indonesians are eligible to vote in the polls

Indonesia has marked the formal start of its election season with a joint rally of political parties in the capital Jakarta.

Thirty-eight national parties are contesting parliamentary elections on 9 April, along with six local parties in the newly-autonomous province of Aceh.

Presidential elections are due to follow in July.

About 174 million Indonesians, across more than 17,000 islands, are eligible to vote in the ballots.

The main issues exercising voters are likely to be the economy, employment opportunities and the fight against corruption - especially high-level corruption, which continues to plague Indonesian politics.

Political weight

One by one, party representatives climbed the steps to the podium in Jakarta's cavernous conference arena, to pound out their election slogans to hundreds of flag-waving supporters.

I hope the political parties will not insult or violate each other in a way that could disintegrate into anarchy
Hafiz Anshary
National Election Committee

Incumbent President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who is favorite to win a second five-year term in July, gave a televised address from his palace in the capital.

"We call on the people to participate in the election process peacefully. Let's obey the law and regulations," the president said.

His Democratic Party is facing tough opposition in the April ballot for the 560-seat parliament.

The head of the National Election Committee, Hafiz Anshary, warned party leaders at the rally that failure to control their supporters may lead to violence.

"I hope the political parties will not insult or violate each other in a way that could disintegrate into anarchy," he said.

Hundreds of thousands of police and soldiers have been deployed to ensure security.

Litmus test

Monday's meeting marks the start of the 21-day formal campaign period, though the country has been papered with political flags and posters for months.

Many candidates are linking themselves to various celebrities - from footballer David Beckham to the US President, Barack Obama.

But according to the BBC's correspondent in Jakarta, Lucy Williamson, the parliamentary polls also carry real political weight.

Firstly, they will decide which parties get to put forward presidential candidates - a party needs to win 20% of the seats in parliament to do that.

And secondly, they will be a useful litmus test of whether politics here are becoming more Islamic, our correspondent says.

Secular parties tend to do best, despite a growing Muslim identity among many Indonesians.

But even secular parties have been under pressure from hardline Muslim groups, and support for at least one Islamic party seems to be growing.

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