Early in tally, Indonesian election has a surprise

Strong challenger to Megawati rises

April 08, 2004|By Richard C. Paddock | Richard C. Paddock,LOS ANGELES TIMES

JAKARTA, Indonesia - As the slow process of counting votes in Indonesia's parliamentary elections continued yesterday, one presidential candidate emerged who could pose a formidable challenge to the re-election hopes of President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

With about 25 percent of the votes in Monday's election tabulated, it appeared that the Democratic Party, headed by former Security Minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, would easily exceed the 3 percent threshold required to nominate him for president - putting a candidate in the race who has the potential to unite other parties behind him.

Yudhoyono is a retired four-star general who has served as a Cabinet minister under three presidents, including Megawati. He is widely regarded as a capable leader who is untainted by widespread corruption in the government.

With 24 parties in the parliamentary race and none likely to win even one-quarter of the votes, the presidential race will be shaped largely by party alliances that will be formed in the coming days.

"In less than one week, there will be a new political map in Indonesia," said Yudhoyono, who acknowledged meeting with representatives of several parties since Monday's vote.

With more than 32 million ballots counted of an estimated 125 million cast, Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party in Struggle was barely leading with 21 percent of the vote. For Megawati, the tally represented a major setback - her party appears to be losing one-third of the support it had in 1999's parliamentary election, when it received 34 percent.

Golkar, the party of the ousted dictator, President Suharto, was close behind with 20 percent. National Awakening, the party of former President Abdurrahman Wahid, was third with 14 percent.

Although Yudhoyono's newly formed Democratic Party was in fifth place with less than 8 percent, many voters who backed other parties for parliament have indicated that they would support him for the presidency. Recent opinion surveys indicate that he would be the front-runner in a contest with Megawati.

Under Indonesia's election laws, parties that attract 3 percent of the vote may enter a candidate in the July 5 presidential election. If no presidential candidate receives a majority in July, the top two will vie in a September runoff.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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