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Indonesia: Vote-Count Delay May Imperil Election

  • Breffni O'Rourke

Prague, 9 June 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Indonensia's parliamentary elections have gone remarkably well -- so far. But now trouble appears to be brewing.

In the world's most populous Islamic nation, some 116 million people cast their votes in the election on Monday. It was the first fully democratic ballot in the country since 1955.

International observers report the voting process went off succesfully without major procedural problems, and without the violence so widely feared.

The United States has congratulated the people of Indonesia, with State Department spokesman James Foley saying they were obviously thrilled to participate in a meaningful election. But Foley cautioned that it's too early yet to assess the effectiveness of the electoral process overall.

And that is the problem. Vote-counting is proceeding with such extreme slowness that the main opposition parties say they worry that the result is being falsified and could rob them of victory. By today, only a tiny 3.5 percent of the votes had been counted, whereas it was originally hoped the full results would be available by Tuesday.

The head of the European Union's observer mission, John Gwin Morgan, issued a statement through his office in Jakarta which said:

"The present rate of counting and transmission of votes recorded from village sub-district and district level, risks reaching a point where it is unhealthily slow".

Morgan expressed grave disquiet at the delay, saying reports of irregularities in the counting were already emerging, and that these could undermine the conduct of the whole operation.

On the votes counted so far, opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) is far in the lead. It is followed by another opposition party, the Nation Awakening Party (PKB) of Abdurrahman Wahid, and back in third place is the ruling Golkar party of President B.J. Habibie. Habibie called the election in the wake of social unrest amid the country's economic crisis and the forcing out of power of long-time autocratic President Suharto.

The big question in everybody's mind is whether the anti-democratic elements in Indonesia's establishment will allow the opposition to win this election. The co-chairman of Megawati's PDI-P, Mochtar Buchori, told RFE/RL from Jakarta today that he too is worried that the vote counting is proceeding much too slowly.

He says an official enquiry is needed, but he cautioned against any rash moves, such as Abdurrahman Wahid's threat to set up an alternative emergency government if vote tampering is confirmed:

"There will be chaos if Wahid declares a provisional government without the support of the army, there will be chaos".

Buchori says, however, that he believes the army will lend its support to whoever is seen as properly winning the election, including the opposition parties. That's because the military realises the consequences if it fails to do so: international agencies like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund would leave Indonesia and investors would stay away, worsening the social and economic crisis and hastening collapse.

He expressed confidence, despite the vote-counting problem, that Megatati will be forming the next government:

"There is a historic tide, the direction of which is very, very clear: we are parting with the past, we are parting with feudalism and authoritarianism, we are moving towards democracy".

And he said Magawati's party would certainly be willing to join the other main opposition party, Wahid's PKB, in a coalition to broaden the base of a democratic government:

"Even if we have achieved a landslide victory, we will not be able to govern the country on our own. Governing Indonesia in the next century will not be an easy thing, particularly with globalisation, we have to move into the world system willingly and intelligently -- that means there must be a cabinet capable of reading the regional and global situation".

Buchori expressed confidence that the opposition parties will be able to put together a competent team to govern, despite never having had experience of government.

He said the guidelines he has suggested for the PDI-P to take non-party figures into the process of government are that they must be committed to Indonesia's statehood, they must be democrats, and they must have a proven record as capable technocrats.