Megawati faces last obstacles to power

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The Independent Online
TWO MONTHS after votes were cast, the struggle for the Indonesian presidency began in earnest yesterday, when President BJ Habibie finally endorsed the results of the country's controversial parliamentary election.

The decision ends eight weeks of bickering and uncertainty, opening the way for Indonesia's next president to be elected by parliament before the end of the year. Immediately, the head of the armed forces warned of potential violence in the run-up to the vote.

Similar warnings were made two months ago but, despite a boisterous campaign and 48 contending parties, Indonesia's first democratic elections in 44 years was relatively peaceful. Within a few days, Megawati Sukarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) was clearly in the lead. But poor organisation, discord in the election commission, allegations of fraud and the scale of vote-counting delayed official endorsement of the result.

Mr Habibie said: "The result of the ballot is very clear." But it is far from decisive and who will be sitting in his chair five months from now is uncertain. The count gave 34 per cent of votes to Ms Megawati's PDI-P, and 22 per cent to Mr Habibie's Golkar, the party established under Suharto, the former dictator who ruled Indonesia for 32 years until his forced resignation last year. But three smaller Islamic parties, hostile to the idea of a female president, hold the balance of power, ensuring weeks of backroom negotiation and coalition-building before a result emerges.

Despite having won a third of almost 100 million votes cast, Mrs Megawati will commandsome 134 of the 500 seats in the Parliament or DPR, compared with Golkar's 92. But 38 of those seats are guaranteed to members of the military, historical allies of Golkar.

The election of the president, in any case, will be carried out by a second body, the People's Consultative Assembly, the 500 members of the DPR plus 200 regional representatives and specially nominated delegates from groups such as NGOs, unions and religious organisations. None of these supplementary electors has been chosen, and their selection presents opportunities for manipulation by Golkar's long- established local network.

The possibility that Mrs Megawati, the country's most popular politician, could be cheated of the presidency is creating tension in a country burdened by economic crisis and continuing violence in East Timor, Aceh and the Spice Islands. Ms Megawati has said she would respect the result of East Timor's independence referendum on 30 August.

General Wiranto, the armed forces commander, said: "There are indications of certain groups preparing to mobilise the masses to strengthen their opinion in the People's Consultative Assembly. This has the potential to cause clashes or riots."