Tue, Jul 06, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Election marked by surprising lack of demonstrations


Six years ago, riot police and protesters fought bloody battles in central Jakarta during the transition from authoritarian to democratic rule. Yesterday, the streets were peaceful and virtually empty as Indonesians voted for a new president.

Since the fall of dictator Suharto in 1998, Indonesia has endured a reputation as a chaotic, violence-prone nation where people took their grievances to the streets. The first, direct presidential vote showed that the world's third-largest democracy has stability within its grasp.

Many problems remain: poverty, corruption, the threat of terrorism, armed separatist movements and a lack of legal accountability. But the rowdy protests that were once an institution, a symbol of a country in tumult, are now a rarity.

Some students who converged on Parliament in the heady days of 1998, joyfully tossing government documents out of the windows, now have jobs and have joined the political mainstream. A few activists even signed onto the campaign of Wiranto, the once-reviled, former military chief who became a presidential candidate.

"Now that you're sort of face-to-face with the process of democratization, there's not much to protest," said Dede Oetomo, a professor at Airlangga University in Surabaya who regularly took part in street protests.

"You can even scream against Wiranto and you're not even beaten up," he said. "I think the military has also gotten smarter."

The military, which once used heavyhanded tactics to deal with dissent, has now largely withdrawn from politics and has tried to revamp its tarnished image as a pillar of Suharto's rule.

Former US President Jimmy Carter, who observed the presidential vote in Jakarta, said the process was smooth.

Indonesia's election

* July 5: Presidential election. Indonesia's election commission has predicted that a result could be known within 10 days.

* July 26: Official announcement of presidential and vice presidential election results. If no pair wins more than 50 percent of the national vote plus at least 20 percent of the vote in at least half of Indonesia's 32 provinces, a second round of voting will be held.

* September 14-16: Campaign period for second-round election, if required.

* September 20: Presidential election second round.

* October 1: New 550-member Parliament, chosen by legislative elections in April, to be sworn in.

* October 5: Announcement of second-round winning ticket.

* October 20: Inauguration of president and vice president.

Source: Reuters

"We have been greatly impressed by the orderly and well-planned procedures taking place this morning," he said.

Surveys have shown President Megawati Sukarnoputri -- daughter of the country's founding father, Sukarno -- trailing behind Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a retired general and former security minister in her Cabinet. Still, there have been few reported incidents of campaign violence.

That contrasts with 1999, when Muslim cleric Abdurrahman Wahid successfully cajoled parliamentary factions into supporting his bid for the presidency at Megawati's expense. Crestfallen supporters of Megawati rioted in the streets outside the green-domed Parliament.

In 2001, Wahid was impeached on charges of corruption and incompetence, and Megawati, who was then vice president, took over. Despite fears of violence, that transition was peaceful.

Jakarta was a much edgier place in the late 1990s, and cosmetic changes since then have softened its image. Protesters once gathered at a fountain in a traffic circle where the Sukarno-era Welcome Monument sits, but expansion of the fountain pool has removed the space.

Change has even come to the Hotel Indonesia, an old landmark that witnessed Indonesia's tumult in the 1960s and was immortalized in 1983 Oscar-winning film The Year of Living Dangerously.

The decrepit building, recently bought by a subsidiary of Indonesian cigarette giant Djarum, is closed and undergoing renovation.

Oetomo said change in Indonesia in the next five years will be about the "boring, nitty-gritty work" of educating people about politics and other issues.

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