Ex-general heads for Indonesia win
Yudhoyono has shunned the old party system, appealing directly to voters.
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The world's largest Muslim population prepares to elect its leader.
JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- A former Indonesian general appears to be on his way to victory over incumbent Megawati Sukarnoputri in the country's first direct presidential election.
With about 40 percent of an exit poll complete, the Washington-based National Democratic Institute and the Indonesian think-tank LP3S, showed Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono leading with 61.2 percent of the vote to Megawati's 38.8 percent.
Yudhoyono, who left his post as security minister under Megawati in March after a public dispute over his political ambitions, thanked his supporters but said he would not claim victory until official results are in on October 5.
"Of course," he said, "[I am] very happy to learn that the vote count has shown that I will reach a promising result."
The 54-year-old career soldier asked Indonesians to accept the results of the poll regardless of the final outcome and called for both his supporters and Megawati's to come together "to build a better Indonesia."
In the last two elections in Indonesia, the NDI's final poll has been 100 percent accurate.
At a brief news conference late on Monday night, a stern-faced Yudhoyono insisted he was not making a victory speech, Reuters reported.
When photographers urged him to shake his running mate's hand, Yudhoyono said: "No. People will think we feel we've won."
Pre-election polls had shown Yudhoyono with a massive lead.
Megawati and Yudhoyono had a bitter row over his presidential ambitions, leading to his resignation, but Yudhoyono is ready for a reconciliation.
"I expect we have to be more united in the near future to face the national challenge of building a better Indonesia," he said.
Polls opened early Monday morning with 140,000 police officers deployed across the world's third largest democracy amid reports of several bomb hoaxes.
"I can vote for who I believe in," said Andriansyah, a cigaretter vendor on a busy street in Jakarta who goes by one name.
"No one can tell me what to do."
After a 32-year dictatorship, Andriansyah has watched Indonesia stumble through four presidents in six years. Under Suharto's dictatorship, lawmakers acted as an electoral college, choosing the president.
While both contenders were nearly identical on many issues, the upstart Yudhoyono put security at the top of his campaign agenda.
The contest came 11 days after a suicide bombing outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta killed nine Indonesians.
It was the latest of three major terror attacks to hit Indonesia -- the world's most populous Muslim nation -- in two years.
The Jakarta attack was blamed on Jemaah Islamiya (JI) -- which intelligence experts say is the regional arm of al Qaeda.
Although both pledged to get tough on terror, neither contender condemned JI, which is banned by the United States.
Apart from security, analysts have said Yudhoyono's biggest draw is the electorate's dissatisfaction with Megawati's performance over the last three years.
The former military general is seen as a strong, decisive and capable leader.
On the other hand, analysts say the 57-year-old Megawati has lost her supporters' hopes for a better future through weak leadership and lack of political will.
For her part, Megawati trumpeted her economic record.
CNN Jakarta Bureau Chief Maria Ressa contributed to this report.