Poll triumph for reformer in Indonesia

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The Independent Online
INDONESIA'S OPPOSITION leader, Megawati Soekarnoputri, has triumphed over the ruling Golkar party in free and fair elections. But Golkar, which upheld the tryrannical rule of former president Suharto for almost 30 years, could still prevent the reformist leader from becoming Indonesia's next president.

The country's electoral committee announced last night,after more than a month of bickering over the vote count, that Ms Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) was the single largest party in the parliamentary elections held on 7 June.

The PDI-P, with its symbol of an angry black bull, won 33.7 per cent of the vote from Indonesians who are desperate to replace the remnants of Suharto's dictatorship with a truly democratic government.

Before Suharto was deposed last year, Golkar regularly won huge majorities by bullying and bribing voters. This time, despite widespread allegations of cheating, the ruling party polled only 22.4 per cent. The rest of the votes went to a mixture of secular and Islamic parties, some of whom are likely to form a parliamentary coalition with the PDI-P.

The vote count was delayed way beyond schedule by bureaucratic foul-ups and manoeuvrings by some of Indonesia's 48 political parties who, election officials claim, did badly in the poll but still tried to blackmail the government for jobs and money.

After weeks of rising tension over the country's first free election since 1955, the end was an anti-climax. Officials pulled out a ballot certificate from the province of North Sulawesi, pronounced that they were satisfied with it and went back to their seats. "We have finished the count for the whole of Indonesia and overseas," said the election chief, Jacob Tobing, to cheers from dozens of officials and witnesses.

The result has still to be ratified by the national election commission next week, but few people expect any more delays of the kind which have dogged the count until now. Ms Megawati's problems are only just beginning, however. Although her party will be the largest in the new 500-member parliament, she will not automatically replace Suharto's protege, BJ Habibie, as president.

Many of her millions of supporters see her as an almost Messianic figure who is destined to follow in the footsteps of her father, Indonesia's first president, Sukarno. If Mr Habibie is re-elected, there are fears that riots may follow.

Indonesia is still recovering from 32 years of Suharto's rule and the election system is only half-democratic. The president, who wields far more power than parliament, is chosen by a 700-member senate which includes the 500 members of parliament. The other 200 members are not elected and about 50 will come from the armed forces who have mixed feelings about democracy.

By combining Golkar's votes with Islamic parties and some of the 200 non-elected senate members, Mr Habibie could still get enough support to block Ms Megawati's chances. That would be seen as a disaster by Indonesia's reformists.