Indonesians get to vote

Transition: Habibie's finest gift to democracy would be to lose and accept election results.

May 23, 1999

PRESIDENT B. J. Habibie has done more to establish democracy and a sound economy in the year since he replaced his mentor, the dictator President Suharto, than anyone predicted.

The apparently free election for parliament on June 7 is the most dramatic result. Where only three parties were allowed before, 48 are in the fray. Where Golkar, the party of General Suharto and Mr. Habibie, would previously have won, it now predicts that it will not.

The real prize won't come until November, when a consultative assembly including the elected parliament will select the next president. Mr. Habibie's final gift to his nation would be to lose that one and to persuade his cronies and the army to accept the result.

The likelihood of this just went up when three main opposition parties formed a coalition. In an opinion poll that followed, the new alliance had 41.5 percent of the vote against Golkar's 14.3 percent.

If the opposition alliance holds, and if the army remains in its barracks, Indonesia could make the transition to democracy. Hopes of ending corruption and poverty would increase. No one knows if Mr. Habibie and his supporters will ultimately accept losing. But it's not too much to ask.

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