Reuters - Indonesians went to the polls on Thursday across the vast archipelago of more than 17,000 islands in parliamentary elections considered key to setting the pace of further reform in Southeast Asia's largest economy.
The elections, a massive exercise in democracy with more than 170 million eligible voters, were marred by overnight violence in which at least six people died in the eastern province of Papua.
The ballot has faced logistical problems ranging from incorrect voter rolls to confusion over new voting procedures, but the economy, jobs, and corruption are among the top issues.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Democrat Party is tipped to win the most seats in the parliamentary poll, lifting its share of the vote from 7.5 percent in 2004 to as much as 29 percent, according to one recent poll.
That would pave the way for Yudhoyono, a reform-driven ex-general, to run for re-election in the July presidential poll, most likely with a stronger mandate to continue his pro-investment policies of reducing graft and shaking up institutions such as the judiciary, civil service and police.
"We hope that the whole election process from legislative to presidential can, on the one hand, be safe, orderly and run smoothly and, on the other hand, be honest, fair and democratic," Yudhoyono, dressed in a blue shirt denoting his Democrat Party, said after casting his ballot in Bogor south of Jakarta.
Polling stations were due to have closed everywhere by 0500 GMT and first indications of the winner may come within hours in a quick count to be taken from a sample of stations.
Local markets were closed on Thursday, but indicating perceived risk, the cost of protection against a default in Indonesia's sovereign debt was steady at 510 basis points, as measured by its five-year credit default swaps.
There are 38 parties contesting the elections, but opinion polls suggest only three -- the Democrats, PDI-P of former
president Megawati Sukarnoputri, and the Suharto-era Golkar party -- will end with major blocs of votes.
A quick count by the National Survey Institute after the polls closed in Papua showed that the Democrat Party was leading with 24.22 percent of the vote there. The polling agency's survey put Golkar at 12.26 percent and PDI-P at 2.21 percent.
Smaller parties, including many Islamic ones, could end up as kingmakers since a party or coalition must get 25 percent of the national votes or a fifth of the total seats in parliament in order to field a candidate for the July 8 presidential vote.
The parliamentary elections are seen as a referendum on Yudhoyono's performance, particularly when it comes to clamping down on corruption and reviving economic growth.
Yudhoyono, who has an approval rating of 45-52 percent according to recent opinion polls, was Indonesia's first
directly elected president and the first to serve a full five-year term since the autocratic Suharto was forced to step down in 1998.
His administration has delivered stronger economic growth and brought relative peace and stability to the world's most populous Muslim nation, which also has sizeable religious minorities.
But tackling endemic graft in one of the world's most corrupt nations has proved far tougher.
Muhammad Thohir, 49, said after voting in central Jakarta he felt there was more transparency on candidates in this election.
"We can trace their track record from the media. So I expect less corruption in the parliament, unlike the previous ones."
While Indonesian elections are traditionally chaotic affairs, Syamsuddin Haris, a political analyst at the Indonesian Institute of Science, said that apart from "small ripples", the polls had gone fairly smoothly so far although there could be protests later on.
Another expert said Indonesia, the world's third-largest democracy, organised to hold its elections on one day, while India, the world's biggest democracy, takes a month.
In the exception to the general tranquility, Papua police said at least six people died and a string of buildings, including a university in provincial capital Jayapura, were set ablaze after attacks on several police posts by gunmen and by a crowd armed with bows and arrows and petrol bombs.
Tensions in Papua, where a separatist movement has simmered for decades, have been running high in recent weeks and some Papuans have called for a boycott of the election.
In contrast, voting in Aceh, a former separatist hotspot seen as another potential election risk after a series of recent shootings and reports of intimidation, appeared to go smoothly.