Election only first step in Indonesia

Under complex system, favored candidate might not lead new government

June 15, 1999|By THE BOSTON GLOBE

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- After Indonesia's first democratic elections in 44 years, the ruling Golkar party of ousted President Suharto has conceded defeat, ending decades of one-party rule.

But thanks to a complex and indirect voting system, the race for the presidency is just beginning and the final winners and losers in Indonesia's transition to democracy are not clear.

A year after anti-Suharto riots killed 1,200 and forced the autocrat to step down, voters' expectations for democratic change are soaring. If a split vote enables Suharto's old party to cobble together a coalition, analysts suggested that Indonesians may take to the streets again in fury.

Until now, "the opposition has restrained itself because they are expecting to win," said Jusuf Wanandi, chairman of the Jakarta-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

If those hopes are dashed?

Megawati Sukarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle leads official and unofficial vote counts, but nearly every tally has Golkar in a surprise second-place finish in the parliamentary race.

"We're not really talking about a choice among 48 parties, but between the Suharto order and a new political system. Even if 20 percent of people voted for Golkar, that means four-fifths of the people want a new government," said Wimar Witoelar, an opposition political commentator.

But the voters will not choose the next president. It will be the national assembly -- made up of 462 newly elected members, 38 military appointees, 135 regional electors and 65 representatives from minority groups.

That leaves the field open for deal-making among 700 people to choose the leader of the world's fourth-most populous nation.

Even without dirty dealing, votes for Parliament do not translate directly into seats. Indonesia's voting system over-represents thinly populated provinces, and the ruling party remains strong in many outlying islands.

For example, the province of Irian Jaya has 1 million people and gets 12 seats in Parliament, while the capital city, Jakarta, has more than 10 million people but gets just 18 seats. By Golkar's count, it will control the votes in 13 provinces, the same number as Megawati's party.

Projections based on the national distribution of votes indicate that even with 38 percent of the vote Megawati's party holds so far, it would get only 27 percent of parliamentary seats. In contrast, Golkar, with 16 percent of votes, would get 24 percent of seats.

"We're conceding defeat in terms of the electoral count, but in terms of the formation of the government, it's not over yet," said Marzuki Darusman, co-chairman of Golkar.

Darusman said Golkar's strategy was to boost its credibility among the public by accepting technical defeat, to counter allegations of vote-tampering, while "building up the acceptability of cooperation" with other parties.

The armed forces were long associated with Suharto, and military appointees to Parliament may align themselves with the party of the old regime. An array of small Muslim parties is also likely to side with Golkar, partly because many could not accept a woman as president and partly because her party represents secular rather than religious interests.

Megawati also has opposed granting significant autonomy to restive provinces, which could undermine her support with assembly members from those regions.

So it is possible that Megawati, the candidate favored by the largest bloc of voters, might not have enough support in the assembly to lead the next government.

Pub Date: 6/15/99

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