Habibie faces ousting by Democrats

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The Independent Online
PRESIDENT B J Habibie of Indonesia came under growing pressure to step down yesterday as a slow trickle of election results indicated a decisive defeat for the ruling Golkar Party after 30 years of one-party rule.

By last night, only 1.2 million votes had been counted of more than 100 million cast in Monday's historic election. But they showed a consistent lead for the Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle (PDI-P), led by Megawati Sukarnoputri.

The PDI-P had gained 39.6 cent, with 25.5 per cent going to the National Awakening Party (PKB), led by the moderate Muslim leader, Abdurrahman Wahid. Their share may diminish as the counting continues, but if the two parties hold on to their lead, they will be in a strong position to form a coalition government and elect a president when the new parliament convenes.

Golkar trailed in third place with 13.4 per cent, and yesterday Mr Habibie acknowledged for the first time that his party would lose its control of the country it dominated for decades as the political vehicle of the former dictator Suharto, who lost power last year.

"He said that, at this stage, it is too early to know the result, but from his observation he thinks no party will have a majority," said Parni Hadi, head of the Antara news agency, after a meeting with the President.

In private talks with opposition leaders, a senior Golkar member discussed jettisoning Mr Habibie as its presidential candidate. Marzuki Darusman, deputy chairman and a leading party reformer, told them that if Golkar won less than a fifth of the vote, Mr Habibie should abandon his plans for re- election. "There will have to be a re-evaluation," he said later, "and we'll have to decide about his nomination."

There was surprise and impatience at the slow progress of the count, which began early on Monday afternoon when 300,000 polling stations closed across the vast archipelago. The election's organisers face formidable technical difficulties, particularly in remote areas and outlying islands, where ballot boxes sometimes have to be transported to poll centres by sea, river or on horseback. Indonesian and foreign election observers said voting had been generally free and fair, but pointed out that the complexity of the counting process still left room for fraud and that no final conclusions could be reached.

The University Network for a Free and Fair Election said that in some areas, the supposedly indelible ink used to mark the fingers of people after they had voted was easily washed off, and that 30,000 ballot papers on the island of Sumatra were found to have been marked before the ballot. Elsewhere, voters were forced to sign their ballot papers, and in east Java, children were brought in to vote from religious schools. "The general election has been poorly organised," said the network. "However, our preliminary report suggests that no significant violations were committed that favour any particular party."

The worst violations were reported in Aceh province, where there was intimidation by Indonesian soldiers and by separatist guerrillas. The majority of polling stations were never set up, and 15,000 people fled from one village amid rumours of a looming battle.

The PKB leader, Abdurrahman Wahid, raised fears that Golkar might attempt to interfere with the election committee. "If they try to form a government I will resist this," he said. "We will go to the end and it will be a bitter fight."

But the atmosphere in Jakarta was peaceful, and the main stock index rose by 12 per cent. The Indonesian rupiah, whose collapse two years ago created the climate of unrest that precipitated Suharto's fall, rose by 5 per cent.