Paul Rowland is head of the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute (NDI), the international arm of the U.S. Democratic Party. An NDI poll took samples of votes cast at 2,500 polling stations: "The news, in short, is that in the first round of Indonesia's first direct presidential election, there is no outright winner. The ticket of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Jusuf Kalla has received the most votes of the five tickets, as predicted in many pre-election surveys, [with a] projected 33.9 percent."
Partial results show incumbent President Megawati Sukarnoputri in second place, with about 26 percent, followed by ex-Army General Wiranto with about 23 percent.
"Due to the relatively small margin separating Megawati and Wiranto in these projections and the number of invalid ballots that will be subject to rechecking, it is still unclear as to which ticket will come in second and advance to the second round," Rowland says.
Official final results are expected in about 10 days. The top two finishers face a runoff in September.
Yudhoyono today said each of his possible second-round competitors will present a political challenge: "I am ready to go to the second round, whoever my competitor will be, because for me both Wiranto and Megawati have his or her own strengths and weaknesses. In politics, I have to be ready for competing on the second round in the run-off."
On major issues, little divides Yudhoyono from Megawati or Wiranto. All want to raise incomes in a country where half the population lives on less than $2 a day. All have promised to fight terrorism in a country where Islamic militants linked to Al-Qaeda have carried out a spate of bombings.
Heri, a Jakarta resident, told Reuters today that it's not so much who wins as what they can accomplish once in office.
"I don't care who wins. Most importantly, that person [should] first improve security conditions, and secondly provide for the people's needs."
About 85 percent of Indonesia's population of 220 million people is Muslim. While most are moderate, many still doubt militant Islamists are behind bombing attacks or that there should be a crackdown on the religious schools seen as breeding extremists.
Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim country -- an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands spanning three time zones.
Turnout among the country's more than 150 million eligible voters was estimated at about 80 percent, with no major incidents of violence or voting irregularities reported.