There is a rule of thumb to regional politics that if something appears too good to be true, then it usually is. Indonesia - Southeast Asia's most populous country and the world's largest Muslim nation - may be well on its way to proving the exception. On Wednesday, 176 million Indonesians will vote in only their second presidential election in history. The build-up to the poll has been notable for its relative stability, tolerance and moderation - and a striking sense that democracy is firmly bedding down. Talking to both ordinary voters and the elites, there is little sense of the tension that can run through elections elsewhere in the region, which too often produce a winner-takes-all fight to the death. That can too often produce, at best, conspiracies and Machiavellian manoeuvring with little thought to actual policy rather than the raw business of getting and keeping power for its own sake. In the worst cases, there is actual bloodshed; bodies floating in rivers or falling into rice-threshing machines. Indonesia's road to democracy remains perilous, with lingering reports of voter registration problems and human rights abuses at the hands of the police or military. But the trend across the 14,000-island archipelago, with its ethnic, cultural and religious diversity, is unmistakable. Less than a decade ago, that diversity seemed as much a curse as a blessing. The hopeful cry of reformasi - reformation - that accompanied the collapse of the Suharto dictatorship was nearly extinguished amid terrorist attacks, savage sectarian bloodshed and, in East Timor, military-inspired violence. As the new century began, foreign diplomats worried about the threat of a Balkanised Indonesia. As someone who witnessed the chaos in Jakarta immediately before Suharto's resignation after 32 years in power, the transformation seems nothing short of remarkable. Watching crowds of looters putting Jakarta's long-oppressed Chinatown to the torch one hot morning in May 1998, it was hard to imagine the capital ever successfully emerging from such darkness. Then, furtive street-corner discussions ran thick with evacuation plans, assassination plots and vicious military conspiracies. Now people stand about reviewing the performances of the leading presidential candidate, incumbent Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and his rivals, Vice-President Jusuf Kalla and former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, in televised election debates.' It is not perfect and it will probably never be perfect,' said Agus, a 1990s-era student turned trader. 'But we have a sense that democracy is not just a dream, but something real that helps all Indonesians and keeps us peaceful. I never thought I would see that take root, but it has, even amongst the poor.' Dr Susilo - a moderate Suharto-era general - has led with a stabilising hand over the past five years, yet the current air of relative stability is not based merely on his personality. Concrete steps have been taken to devolve power - so centralised under Suharto in order to empower districts, cities and provinces. A constitutional court has been created, along with official watchdogs to check corruption and other abuses of power. An active and competitive media constantly demands greater freedom. In his speeches and interviews, Dr Susilo acknowledges the long road ahead, particularly in the fight against Indonesia's fearsome tradition of corruption. Regulation and bureaucracy, too, has in places increased as Jakarta hands over power. Fears about the once pervasive military are never far from the surface. A bigger challenge in coming years, perhaps, will be handing the baton to a younger generation of leaders to deepen the country's democratic roots. Indonesians know more than most the threats that can lurk behind such transitions.