Wed, Apr 07, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Megawati takes early lead in poll

HOLDING ON The Indonesian president's party was slightly ahead with less than 1 percent of the vote counted, although the final result could take as long as a week

REUTERS , JAKARTA

A tribal man votes in Indonesia's general elections in the village of Lembah Balien, in the town of Wamena, in Papua, Indonesia, on Monday.

PHOTO: AP

Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri's party clung to a slim lead yesterday following parliamentary elections, but with less than 1 percent of the vote counted, the race is wide open.

Investors shrugged off the painfully slow vote tally, pushing the Jakarta stock market up more than 2 percent. Election observers said any reliable indication of the winner could take as long as a week.

By mid-afternoon, Megawati's Indonesia Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) led with 19 percent, followed by the party of former president Abdurrahman Wahid with 18 percent. Golkar, the former political vehicle of ousted autocrat Suharto, was third, with 15 percent.

The result of Monday's election in the world's most populous Muslim nation will shape the race for the country's first direct presidential vote in July. With no candidate likely to win a majority in that election, coalition-building will be crucial in the run-up to the vote.

"This is all a pre-run for the presidential race," said chief EU election observer Glyn Ford.

Most opinion polls ahead of Monday's vote showed Golkar likely to unseat Megawati's party as the largest in parliament, although without a majority, as many yearn for the firm leadership and economic growth of Suharto's 32-year rule.

They also showed the president trailing her former security minister, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, in the presidential race. Yudhoyono's Democrat Party was running fourth in the early election count, a strong showing given its status as a new party.

A survey of sampled polling stations by a group of national and international organizations showed Golkar winning Monday's election.

Golkar won 22.7 percent of the vote at 1,461 polling stations chosen randomly out of nearly 600,000 nationwide. Megawati's PDI-P came second with 18.8 percent.

Megawati's PDI-P came first in 1999 with 34 percent. Golkar won 22.5 percent.

The organizations, which include the US-based National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and three Indonesian non-governmental organizations, posted observers at the stations to monitor initial vote tallies conducted after polls closed on Monday.

"We don't expect any meaningful information for probably five to seven days," said Hank Valentino of the US-based International Foundation for Election Systems.

He said urban areas would be tallied first, skewing initial results.

"The General Election Commission has been saying a final result is going to take 21 days. The law says they have 30 days," Valentino said.

He said voter turnout from the 147 million strong electorate was thought to have been above 90 percent.

The trickle of results harks back to the last election in 1999 when the full count took weeks.

Election officials were not available for comment.

Monday's elections for the 550-seat parliament and local legislatures went off largely peacefully and were billed as history's biggest one-day vote. It was only the second democratic poll since Suharto's fall in 1998.

The absence of major unrest and good showings so far for mainstream parties should support stocks and the rupiah currency. The Jakarta bourse was up 2.24 percent by mid-afternoon yesterday at 767.5 points.

Dealers anticipate secular nationalist parties such as Golkar and PDI-P are likely to emerge the winners, meaning little change in economic policy.

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