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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

THE PARALLEL VIEW

Flashback to the 1955 ballot


Indonesia's Elections: History in the Making Decision '99 Only a slow vote can spoil Indonesia's free and triumphant elections

The Parallel View Flashback to the 1955 ballot

'I will be the one. Why not?' Abdurrahman Wahid wants to be president

Democracy Meets Anarchy A political tussle stirs trouble in Central Java

The Election That Wasn't Most in Aceh were too frightened to vote

Money Talked, But How Loudly? Accusations fly that Golkar and others misused funds to woo voters
ONE OF THE MORE REPEATED phrases about this election is that it's the freest since the 1955 polls. Indeed, like the 1999 installment, the ballot 44 years ago to choose a new parliament was a wide-open affair. There were no limits on political parties, organizations or even individuals to contest. And the parties represented the spectrum of political ideologies, from extreme right to extreme left. Says historian Taufik Abdullah: "The spirit of democracy was very strong."

There are other parallels. Enthusiasm then was also high. Nearly 38 million people voted, a turnout just shy of 88%. No single party won an outright majority. The "winner" was the Indonesian National Party (PNI) of founding father Sukarno, with 22.3% of the vote. Now the chief contender is the PDI-P, in many ways the PNI's soulmate, and led - it so happens - by Sukarno's daughter, Megawati Sukarnoputri. Masyumi, partly reincarnated as Amien Rais's PAN group, was second in the count, and the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) group, which forms the backbone of Abdurrahman Wahid's PKB party, third. All three had to form a coalition to govern, just as their contemporary counterparts may have to do. Even the election's darker sides are similar. Intimidation of voters was practiced by all the major parties (though nowhere to the extent during Suharto's New Order, of course), and the PNI especially was accused of indulging in "money politics."

After the 1955 election, Sukarno, who had allowed an unfettered ballot to take place, apparently grew uneasy with the process. When the PNI-NU-Masyumi coalition failed after two years, Sukarno eliminated the post of prime minister to run the government and made his presidency more powerful, a level of authority that still exists. He also dissolved a Constitution-drafting committee about to complete a liberal charter. How will the next president - perhaps Sukarno's own daughter - behave? Hard to say. But Indonesia seems to be picking up where it left off in its experiment with democracy.

Reported by Yenni Kwok/Jakarta


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