Tomorrow's vote offers Indonesians hope and confusion

Parliamentary balloting first step in long process of choosing next president


JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Indonesia steps into the unknown tomorrow with a highly complex parliamentary election in which, even if everything goes smoothly, the outcome is sure to cause confusion and protests.

All across this huge archipelago, with its population of more than 200 million, supporters of 48 parties have been celebrating the country's first free election in a generation with a campaign that has all the euphoria of a victory rally. Helicopters shower crowds with leaflets, young men climb tall monuments to hang strings of flags, and convoys of buses wind through the streets with youngsters dancing on their roofs.

The world's largest Islamic nation, repressed for three decades by former President Suharto, is pouring all its hopes for change into this vote. Many are going to be disappointed.

Indonesia's tortuous and obscure electoral process, unfolding one year after Suharto's forced resignation, seems almost intended to cause consternation.

In tomorrow's ballot, a tally of 30 percent or 35 percent by any one party will be considered a victory in the overcrowded field, but that will be only the first step in the competition for the presidency.

Coalition-building will come next, and even that will be just the beginning of a process that could last into November.

The main problem, among many, is that the 462 representatives to be elected tomorrow will constitute only two-thirds of an assembly that will choose Indonesia's next president.

The balance of the 700 presidential electors will include 38 members of the military; 35 appointed representatives of sectoral groups such as religious leaders and civil servants and 165 regional representatives to be chosen by the country's 27 provincial assemblies, whose members will also be elected tomorrow.

Today, on the eve of the election, the details of the procedures for choosing the sectoral and regional representatives have not been determined.

As this untested process plays out, members of what may seem to be the winning party could see their victory erode. Vote manipulation, money politics and back-room dealing, as well as the legitimate workings of the electoral system, may dull their joy.

Many will be dissatisfied -- Islamic parties who see this as their chance to win greater influence; human rights groups hoping for unprecedented freedoms; populists for whom the election is the chance for a wholesale redistribution of the nation's wealth; the perennially affronted student groups, who it seems will be satisfied with nothing short of utopia.

Most of those groups share a common opponent: Golkar, the party of Suharto, which won every election during his 32 years in power and is the incumbent party.

Pub Date: 6/06/99

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