Thu, Jul 15, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Wiranto's backers edge nearer to conceding defeat

VOTING At stake are two spots in a run-off for the presidency of Indonesia. A former military leader's allies are nearly ready to admit that they have lost

AP , JAKARTA

Supporters of Indonesia's ex-military chief Wiranto were close to conceding defeat yesterday in the July 5 elections, yet some members of his campaign said they may still challenge the vote over ballot irregularities.

With more than 80 percent of the votes counted, former security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was leading with 33.55 percent of the vote, followed by President Megawati Sukarnoputri with 26.23. General Wiranto, the nominee of ex-dictator Suharto's Golkar Party, was in third with 22.27 percent.

The two top vote-getters will contest a run-off election in September. The elections marked the first time that Indonesia's 210 million people voted directly for their president.

"With the votes counted so far we can see that there is a trend that we have lost, but we haven't released a formal statement yet," said Bomer Pasaribu, a top Golkar official.

"It seems the percentages will not change ... and Megawati will move to the second round," he said.

Until recently, Wiranto's campaign team was maintaining their candidate would overtake Megawati once returns from outlying regions were counted.

Still, several members of the campaign are threatening to challenge the result because millions of votes that were initially deemed invalid are being recounted.

"This is causing a distortion in the votes," said Wiranto's campaign manager Slamet Yusuf Effendi.

He said that if the results were "not fair" then Wiranto might take legal action, but that any decision would be taken after July 26.

He did not elaborate.

Challenging the vote would likely be very unpopular among Indonesians, and it is not at all certain that either Wiranto himself or Golkar would support such a move.

Going into the polls, Yudhoyono capitalized on anger at Megawati's aloof leadership and lack of progress in fighting poverty, corruption and improving the economy.

Final results are not expected until July 26, but both candidates are talking about possible coalitions with the Golkar party ahead of the September vote.

Both are secular politicians and their stated policies differ little. They are expected to offer Cabinet seats to rival parties in exchange for support.

Yudhoyono is the favorite, though analysts say the race could be close, especially if Megawati wins Golkar's backing.

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