`Grave concern' in Jakarta over election count delay

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The Independent Online
THE HEAD of the European Union's official observer unit expressed "grave concern" over the speed of counting in the Indonesian general election yesterday, as jubilation over the peaceful campaign gave way to alarm at the potential for fraud and vote-rigging.

Ambassador John Gwyn Morgan, a Welsh Euro MP leading the EU Election Observation Unit, said he had unconfirmed reports of polling figures being inaccurately entered into the central election computer. "I am extremely concerned on behalf of the unit at the slowness with which the count is taking place," he told a press conference. "If [the reports] are true, this will cast gravest doubts that the whole operation will, in the end, be conducted as it should be."

By yesterday evening, more than 48 hours after the polls closed on Monday, only about 5 per cent of the 113 million votes had been tabulated. Foreign observers from Europe, the United States, Japan, Australia and the Philippines have praised the conduct of the vote itself, which took place with minimal reports of intimidation and malpractice. They acknowledge that the irregularities might be a result of poor organisation, rather than fraud on the part of any particular party.

"The main problem that we see is a very slow reporting of election returns," said Jimmy Carter, the former US President who is heading his own team of monitors. "This does not indicate any illegalities or improprieties. But it does arouse questions and concerns among the people to realise at this late stage that very few of their votes have been reported to central headquarters and then to the general public."

"These delays could raise suspicion," said Amien Rais, the leader of the National Mandate Party, which has made an unexpectedly dismal showing in the votes counted so far. "Why is it taking so long? There might be something sinister behind this."

The votes were counted first on Monday at more than 300,000 polling stations spread across Indonesia's 7,000 inhabited islands, but after that they have to be tabulated at sub-district, district and finally the national level. Most Indonesians have never voted, let alone organised, a free election, and the inexperience shows at some of the voting stations where young volunteer computer operators were seen slumped asleep over sheets of voting figures.

There were enormous inconsistencies between the various institutions monitoring the count. The official General Election Commission, which is responsible for the polls, put the Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle (PDI-P), led by Megawati Sukarnoputri, in a commanding lead with 38 per cent of the votes counted, with second place going to the National Awakening Party (PKB). But an unofficial count, organised and published by the election media centre, gave second place to Golkar, the ruling party of the incumbent president, B J Habibie.

A small group of Golkar supporters mounted a demonstration yesterday, protesting against the slowness of the vote, outside the offices of the General Election Commission. The election commission's chairman appealed for patience. A local monitoring group, called the People's Voter Education Network, claimed that Golkar officials had paid some voters from 3,000 to 20,000 rupiah (23p to pounds 1.50) to support their party.

Quite apart from the competition among the political parties, the past few days have seen unexpected tensions between the various foreign and Indonesian groups monitoring the election. Both the EU and American delegations have issued reports broadly praising the conduct of the elections, drawing criticism from local groups who prefer to reserve judgement until the final results are known. "It is not helpful to make such statements before we have seen it through to the end," said Smita Notosusanto, director of the University Network for Free and Fair Election. "We have asked the foreign observers to please wait, but they don't listen."