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World - Asia/Pacific

Indonesia starts tedious process of vote counting

Ballot boxes are emptied in Jakarta

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 ALSO:
Leading Suharto critic aims for power in Indonesia

 

Main opposition party claims early success

June 7, 1999
Web posted at: 10:52 a.m. EDT (1452 GMT)


In this story:

Votes being counted by hand

Goverment coalition seems likely

Suharto's neighbors vote for another party

Former U.S. president among observers

Some accuse Golkar of bribery

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- Despite sporadic problems, voting was peaceful and orderly Monday as millions of Indonesians voted for a new Parliament in the nation's first free elections in 44 years.

Preliminary results will not be available until at least 24 hours after polls began closing Monday afternoon, but Indonesia's leading opposition party said unofficial returns placed it in the lead. The parliament will help select the new president.

"The early returns from East Timor, the Moluccas and Irian Jaya are showing sweeping support for PDI-P (the Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle)," said a senior party official, who asked not to named. The party had been pegged as the frontrunner going into the election.

The National Mandate Party (PAN), another opposition party and possible coalition partner, rejected the PDI-P claims.

"It is a very subjective comment ... it is too early to predict the result, but I believe we stand very close with PDI-P," a party official said.

Many heralded the election as a major step away from the authoritative rule of President Suharto, who was forced out in May 1998 after 32 years in power, amid growing economic turmoil and deadly demonstrations.

"It's a real democracy now, not like before," said Muswantoro, 55, an English teacher who voted in a makeshift booth in a soccer field near Jakarta, the capital.

Votes being counted by hand

Most Indonesians had not voted in a free election. The first and last one took place in 1955. Since then, the ruling Golkar party was accused of largely rigging votes to ensure the victories of their candidates.

Despite heavy rains, a high voter turnout was expected among the roughly 130 million eligible voters in the fourth most populous country and the largest Muslim nation.

Voters cast ballots for 462 of 500 members of Parliament. The powerful military, which cannot vote, will choose the remainder. The new lawmakers, along with 200 government appointees, will choose a new president in November.

National Election Chairman Jakob Tobing said voting had gone smoothly and, by afternoon, election officials began the laborious process of counting votes by hand.

Goverment coalition seems likely

The PDI-P, led by Megawati Sukarnoputri, one of the nation's most popular opposition politicians, seemed poised to win the most Parliament seats.

Yet few believed any party would win a majority, which would require the formation of a coalition government from among the 48 parties that fielded at least 11,000 candidates.

"Let's just wait for the result," said Megawati, voting near her home on the southern outskirts of Jakarta.

Suharto's neighbors vote for another party

In central Jakarta, President B.J. Habibie, Suharto's successor and Golkar party leader, voted with his wife.

"God willing, this election will be free, just and fair," he said.

Suharto, accompanied by family members, raised his ballot before the cameras and smiled as he voted. But when the result from the polling station was read aloud, most of his neighbors in the elite suburb of Menteng had voted for Sukarnoputri's party, drawing laughter from onlookers.

Former U.S. president among observers

Hundreds of international observers, including former President Jimmy Carter, joined thousands of Indonesian volunteers to monitor the elections.

"I don't think there's any doubt (the election) will bring an end to violence and open up the country to immediate economic improvement," said Carter as he toured a voting station in Rempoa.

tricks
Monitors patrol polling stations to ensure fair voting  

Monitors found little outright cheating, but problems did plague voting in some areas. Several Jakarta polling stations were found to have untrained workers or inadequate supplies of indelible ink to mark the fingers of those who cast ballots.

"That means there's no way to prevent people from voting twice," said monitor Smita Notosusanto.

Some accuse Golkar of bribery

Some voters accused Golkar of resorting to bribery attempts. In one village, an elder reportedly offered government rice at one-third the usual price, and discreetly suggested that people vote for Golkar.

In the slums of Jakarta, Rian, a 36-year-old resident, said voters rejected Golkar offers of money in exchange for support.

Despite rebel insurgencies, voting also took place in the eastern province of Irian Jaya and the western area of Aceh. But militant attacks postponed voting in four districts of Aceh, where separatists called for a boycott of the election.

A voting official in North Aceh said no voters had turned up in many areas he had supervised.

In another rare disturbance, men who failed to register and were denied votes set fire to three ballot boxes at a polling station in Tangerang, a town near Jakarta, police said.

Jakarta Bureau Chief Maria Ressa, Correspondent Mike Chinoy and Reuters contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
Police fire on protesters as Indonesia election nears
June 5, 1999
Violence reported on last day of Indonesian campaigning
June 4, 1999
Jakarta awash with red as Megawati's supporters campaign
June 3, 1999
Indonesia's Suharto plans to sue Time magazine
June 2, 1999
Another big rally swamps Jakarta
June 2, 1999

RELATED SITES:
Asia Society - Indonesia's 1999 Elections - A Second Chance for Democracy
Indonesian Corruption Watch
Kompas - Nomor Urut Partai Politik Peserta Pemilu 1999 (in Indonesian)
Golongan Karya (Golkar) (in Indonesian)
Indonesian Organizations on the Web
The Ultimate Indonesian Homepage
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