Waiting for Megawati

Indonesia: Long count weakens faith in election, but people know they voted for change.

June 24, 1999

DELAY in announcing results of the June 7 election until July 9 increases the potential for unrest in Indonesia. But one thing is already clear: Most of the voters -- at present count, four-fifths of them -- favored throwing out the ruling Golkar Party and President B. J. Habibie with it.

Throughout the count, the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) has led with more than one-third of the total, roughly double that of the second-place party. This means that twice as many people want Megawati Sukarnoputri, the gentle, 52-year-old daughter of the founding president of the country, as leader as want anyone else.

The votes are for a majority of the assembly that will choose the president. The rest of the seats are appointed.

Coalition politics will play a decisive role. Indonesians suspect that the military under General Wiranto, himself a possible president, will rig results. They are suspicious of the delays and of the rise of the ruling Golkar Party to second place as the count proceeds.

Any result that does not make Ms. Sukarnoputri president would provoke deep suspicion and hostility. Yet there is resistance to a woman leader from the Islamic parties, which are trailing in this majority Muslim but secular country. Perhaps her coalition would need the discredited Golkar Party.

Ms. Sukarnoputri is a rallying figure for diverse viewpoints. She has not been political until recently. Her views are not known.

Her husband, a small businessman, is said to be ambitious for her. She is a symbol for her late father, Sukarno, who led the country to independence in 1949 and lost power to the military strongman Suharto in 1966.

A vote for Megawati, as she is universally known, is a protest against the last 33 years. It is a repudiation of Suharto, who was hounded out of office a year ago, and of Mr. Habibie, his sidekick.

A vote for Megawati is presumably also for reform, which the International Monetary Fund insists upon to pull Indonesia out of its economic depression. But the candidate says little.

General Wiranto is Indonesia's potential strongman. He can use command of the army to take over, or to make democracy work. That is what Indonesia needs, and the only way to restart the economy.

Going by the count to date, it means that Golkar should be out of power, and Megawati's party, along with others, in.

Pub Date: 6/24/99

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