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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


In the latest count, the PDI-P is still on top and Golkar is still third.
But the final outcome - both for the polls
and for the country - is not as clear-cut as it seems

By Jose Manuel Tesoro / Jakarta

Indonesia's Elections: History in the Making Endgame The jockeying begins as the vote count plods on

Casualty Targeting the attorney-general

Economy Getting better but still rough

Interview The IMF's Indonesian agenda

Elections Who says democracy is better?

previous stories
Decision '99 Only a slow vote can spoil Indonesia's free and triumphant elections

The Parallel View Flashback to the 1955 ballot

Money Talked, But How Loudly? Accusations fly that Golkar and others misused funds to woo voters
Slow is one of the adjectives critics have hurled against Indonesian opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri. So it is perhaps appropriate that her party is poised to claim its biggest success in precisely the same manner. In the wake of the June 7 parliamentary polls, the euphoria over the country's first free elections in more than 40 years has given way to anxious tedium as the vote count proceeds at a snail's pace. A full nine days after the polling, just 40% of the ballots had been tallied. The latest figures had Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P by its Indonesian initials) as the front-runner with a little under 38% of the vote. The National Awakening Party (PKB) under Muslim leader Abdurrahman Wahid came in second at 19%, while the ruling Golkar party of President B.J. Habibie was third with about 17%.

Why has the vote count resembled watching paint dry? The authorities, by choice or circumstance, are taking the slow, steady route. The official tally is done by the General Elections Commission (KPU), which has been carrying out its duty methodically, not to mention bureaucratically. The results from each polling station go to the local polling committee, then up from there to the regency polling committee, then further upward to the provincial level and finally to the national.

There is, of course, also the matter of Indonesia's geography. Counting hundreds of millions of ballots divided among 48 parties in a country that stretches 5,000 km and consists of 13,000 islands is a logistically Herculean feat that can only suck in time. And as KPU chairman Rudini puts it: "We have to understand that much of the human resources in the provinces are less than capable." Unofficial tabulations are being conducted by various groups - the foreign-funded Joint Operations Media Center, the Antara national news wire service, even the military - but these have not proved to be significantly quicker than the official count.

The main worry among oppositionists is that the slowness of the tallying could increase the likelihood of vote fraud by Golkar. What has happened so far, though, is that alleged polling irregularities have exacerbated the slow count. In North Sulawesi, accusations by opposition parties that Golkar engaged in vote-buying have led to a decision to hold a fresh ballot. The KPU is not overjoyed at the development, and its vice chairman Adnan Buyung Nasution worries that party emotions may have gotten out of hand: "Everything has to be based on objective considerations: Was the cheating only in a few polling stations or was it widespread?"

Meanwhile, in Jakarta some parties have alleged that the votes were miscounted, prompting the city committee to accept their call for a re-count. There have been similar demands elsewhere, but so far action has been taken only in Jakarta and North Sulawesi. The North Sulawesi case is being monitored very closely, because developments there could herald the start of a slide down the "slippery slope" - in other words, if a re-vote is permitted there, it could open the way for re-votes in other provinces - which could end up skewing the final outcome.

Results from the "fraying edges" - the restive regions of Aceh, East Timor, Irian Jaya and Maluku - have been slow to come in as well, and official tallies from those areas are still unavailable. In the three troubled regencies of Pidie, North Aceh and East Aceh, the vote was postponed to June 19 and 20, but has now been postponed again. In North Aceh, polling took place as originally scheduled in only seven out of 26 districts, and just 2% of eligible voters showed up.

The slow count notwithstanding, it appears all but certain that the PDI-P will emerge with the most votes. In both the official and unofficial tallies, the PDI-P has a commanding lead. There is less agreement over the runner-up - the official count has the PKB in second place, while the unofficial ones have Golkar - but it seems likely that, as the results continue to come in from the outer islands (where the ruling party is strong), Golkar will creep up and eventually finish in the No.2 spot.

Reinvigorating the country's battered banking system Satisfying Islamist parties' demands for a greater say in running the country
Righting an economy skewed toward big business Accommodating the military's interests
Maintaining currency stability Negotiating settlements with the restive regions
Reducing interest rates Investigating Suharto's wealth and dealing with calls for his trial
Restoring Indonesia as a sound investment destination Cleaning up corruption in government
Cementing cooperation with the IMF  
The story does not end there. Given Indonesia's complex proportional system, a high percentage of the total vote does not necessarily translate to the same proportion of seats in the People's Consultative Assembly. Because the parliamentary seats are apportioned per province, Golkar, whose votes are more evenly distributed across the country than the Java-centered PDI-P, is likely to benefit the most. Golkar is expected to sweep up many of the outer islands; at the same time, the proportional system guarantees it a measure of representation in the PDI-P strongholds of Java and Bali. Thus, even if Golkar lags far behind the PDI-P in actual votes, the gap between the two may well be a lot closer in terms of parliamentary representation.

Still, it is no secret that Golkar leaders have been disappointed with the results so far, and the party has already started jockeying for possible coalition partners in an effort to maximize its chances of success. Golkar is likely to join forces with the Muslim-linked United Development Party (PPP), currently in fourth place, while the PDI-P is expected to cooperate with the PKB. An unknown factor is the fifth-placed National Mandate Party (PAN). Its leader Amien Rais has conceded defeat, but the party is likely to win enough seats to be a key player in parliament. Hence, it has been actively courted by Golkar.

But PAN is in a difficult position. Its membership is a mix of modernist Muslims and urban, reformist intellectuals. The former have no problems with joining forces with the PPP, the various Islamist parties and even Golkar (whose current leadership has Muslim links). The latter, on the other hand, consist of progressive-minded professionals and activists - precisely the group that is most hostile toward Golkar. Rais himself does not exhibit warm feelings toward the ruling party and has rejected a coalition with Golkar as "the last choice I make in this world." (According to inside sources, Golkar chairman Akbar Tandjung offered Rais a ministerial position in a new Habibie government, but Rais refused.) In a June 16 press conference, Rais reiterated his stance, saying that teaming up with Golkar "could mean the end of us as a reformist party." Some of his deputies, however, continue to talk about the possibility of a coalition.

One of the bargaining chips being tossed around by Golkar is even the presidential candidacy of Habibie. Tandjung is known to be not totally happy with Habibie's nomination, and he has hinted that Golkar's support for the diminutive president is not unconditional. The corruption scandal surrounding Attorney-General Andi Ghalib has not helped Habibie's case, and if the situation does not improve for Golkar, the party could well end up offering to drop Habibie as its presidential candidate in order to garner support in the Assembly.

While the behind-the-scenes jockeying and maneuvering continue, the immediate future of Indonesia remains fraught with numerous perils. For all the hopes and aspirations of ordinary Indonesians, a happy ending - which to many voters means seeing Megawati as president - is far from assured. If Golkar pulls off a victory, there are likely to be more charges of electoral fraud, which could lead to the discrediting (fairly or unfairly) of the elections and possibly even political turmoil.

A similar scenario may play itself out if the PDI-P outstrips the other parties in actual votes, but is unable to translate that dominance into parliamentary seats. Throw the various religious and regional sentiments into the brew and one has the makings of a potentially volatile situation. As the counting of the vote slowly progresses, the atmosphere in Indonesia has been quiet. It is, however, too early to tell if this is the calm of a new dawn - or the calm before a storm.

- With additional reporting by Dewi Loveard/Jakarta

This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home



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TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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