Young and old, rich and poor, many voters reflected on their hard-won freedoms in Southeast Asia's largest nation as they cast their ballots in Indonesia's second open presidential election. Some warned that they would never allow any leader to turn the clock back to the repression of the dark years of the late president Suharto's 32-year rule, or even display the first sign of dictatorial tendencies. It could prove a telling message for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. As expected, the reform-minded retired military general looked assured of not just a second five-year term but a stronger mandate, too, according to unofficial early counts. With estimates giving him as much as 60 per cent of the vote, he looked set to pass easily the 50 per cent needed to avoid a second run-off vote against whoever finishes second between former president Megawati Sukarnoputri and Jusuf Kalla, his outgoing vice-president. With more than 170 million Indonesians eligible to vote across an archipelago of 14,000 islands, official results are not expected for three weeks. If confirmed, he will be the first Indonesian president to be democratically re-elected - winning support for further reform over the economic nationalism of his rivals. 'I must admit I never thought I would be able to vote in an election like this that is so open and peaceful,' said 58-year-old Aliuk after emerging from a polling booth in Glodok, Jakarta's once troubled Chinatown. 'I think democracy is here to stay, people wouldn't accept it being taken away, not after all the trouble with Suharto. He was in power too long,' the ethnic Chinese chemical salesman said. Like many in Glodok, Mr Aliluk found himself thinking back to the dangerous days of May 1998, when rioters targeted ethnic Chinese in a week of violence and bloodshed that ended with president Suharto's resignation. 'They tried to get into my house while I hid inside ... but other [non Chinese] residents stopped them,' he said. Official policies of persecution - Chinese characters, names, religions and festivals were outlawed under Suharto - were scrapped amid wider openness that followed his downfall. In the leafy surrounds of Menteng, lined with the mansions of Jakarta's old money elites, voters uttered similar sentiments as they voted in Suropati park. 'We have learned from the past,' said Hafes, a 27-year-old irrigation contractor. 'I was only young then but I still had two friends who died in 1998. We have won our freedoms the hard way.' Across the city in working-class Cilandak Timur, issues of voter list problems, unfinished law reforms and whether poverty reduction efforts were really working proved hot topics. An 11th-hour decision by the constitutional court allowed unregistered voters to cast ballots on the basis of identity cards. It marked a moral victory for Ms Megawati and Mr Kalla, who had both warned millions of voters might be turned away. Despite the controversy, voters were still reacting favourably to Dr Susilo's clean reputation, demanding even greater efforts to tackle the national curse of corruption. 'The important thing is whether they are corrupt or not, and whether they can continue to improve all the things that need to be improved, such as education and health care,' said Suparti, a 47-year-old housewife. 'I think the system looks to be working well, but there is still much that needs to be done.' Her friend, noodle shop owner Salinah, added: 'You don't want to be poor and have to face the courts. There is still a lot wrong that needs fixing for the small people.' Like many voters, Ms Suparti took her electoral rights seriously, refusing to say who she voted for. Presidential hopeful Mr Kalla, meanwhile, showed no such concerns after voting near his Menteng mansion. He waved his opened ballot paper over the top, sticking his head out to grin before the television cameras. When his finger was inked with purple in keeping with regulations to prevent people voting twice, he helped several children perform the same task and posed with them before the cameras. Dr Susilo spoke with all the confidence of a front runner, urging all parties to 'respect the people's choice. Whatever the outcome, it is our duty to respect it'. He added: 'Today is the people's day.' While his first term saw new peace in Aceh, an easing of the terrorist threat and relative economic stability, he faces a hefty in-tray. His bureaucracy remains vast, hampering the fight against endemic corruption. More than 100 million Indonesians live on less than US$2 a day, leaving it still one of the poorest countries in the region. And, according to the voters of Jakarta, he must do it all without giving into any temptation to abuse the powers of his position and his second term mandate. Their message was clear - Indonesians want a responsible leader, not an authoritarian.