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Last Updated: Monday, 19 January, 2004, 00:32 GMT
Indonesia's packed election year

By Rachel Harvey
BBC correspondent in Jakarta

With only two weeks gone, 2004 has already been dubbed "the year of voting frequently" in Indonesia.

The country is preparing to hold legislative elections in April, followed by its first direct presidential poll in July.

The votes look set to be crucial tests of Indonesia's democratic and reformist credentials.

Chusnul Maria
Building democracy is like building a house. We are just laying the foundations in Indonesia, it's too soon to expect us to fix the holes in the roof
Chusnul Maria, Indonesian Election Commission
But with so much at stake, and with complex election rules, it could be October before Indonesians get a clear picture of the new political landscape.

Twenty-four parties have been registered to contest the legislative polls, set for 5 April.

Two are led by younger sisters of the current President, Megawati Sukarnoputri, suggesting not only a bitter sibling rivalry, but also that she and her Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) could be politically vulnerable.

After years of upheaval following the overthrow of former President Suharto, President Megawati has presided over a period of relative stability. But that stability is now beginning to look like stagnation.

April - Legislative polls, contested by 24 parties
July - Presidential poll, contested by parties that win at least 3% of vote in legislative polls
September - Possible run-off if no-one wins 50% of total and 20% of votes in at least half the provinces
Corruption is still rife, problems associated with separatist movements in Aceh and Papua persist, and there is the ever-present threat of further terrorist violence.

Such uncertainty has led to a growing nostalgia for the authoritarian rule of President Suharto. That could benefit the party which did so much to maintain him in power - Golkar.

Recent polls suggest Golkar could replace Mrs Megawati's PDIP as the biggest party in parliament.

Concern at rules

This might not make much difference in legislative terms, since Golkar and PDIP share the view that Indonesia should remain a secular, nationalist country.

It's going to be a real battle... all hell could break loose
Sidney Jones, International Crisis Group

But the elections will still be extremely closely watched, because only parties winning at least 3% of the seats will be allowed to nominate candidates for the presidential race.

Sidney Jones, head of the Jakarta office of the International Crisis Group (ICG), a Brussels-based think tank, believes the rules are cause for concern.

"This is the tightest timeframe that could possibly exist. It's going to be a real battle to figure out which parties have met the thresholds that will allow them to field presidential candidates. All hell could break loose, particularly in the week after the legislative results are announced," she said.

To further complicate matters, in order to win, a presidential candidate must take at least 50% of the total votes and 20% of the votes in at least half of the provinces.

It seems highly unlikely that anyone could achieve such a result in the first round, so a run- off in September looks almost certain.

Short list

Mrs Megawati has already been selected as the PDIP's candidate.

Rachmawati and Sukmawati Sukarnoputri, Megawati's younger sisters
Akbar Tanjung, Golkar chairman
General Wiranto, former military chief
Amien Rais, leader of the National Mandate Party
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, senior security minister
Golkar, meanwhile, has come up with a short list of potential candidates, including its current chairman, Akbar Tanjung. He was convicted of corruption in September 2002 and is now awaiting the outcome of an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Also on the list, and mounting a serious challenge, is the former armed forces Chief, General Wiranto. He has been indicted for war crimes in connection with the 1999 violence which marred East Timor's independence vote.

Among candidates put forward by smaller parties, two stand out.

Amien Rais, leader of the National Mandate Party (PAN), was one of the leading figures of the reform movement at the time of President Suharto's fall from power. However, his popularity has since waned.

The real dark horse in the presidential race is Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, senior minister in charge of political and security affairs, whose popularity is riding high.

Chief Security Minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has kept his options open
As leader of the tiny Democratic Party, he is unlikely to pose a serious challenge on his own, yet he could be persuaded to run on the ticket of one of the more heavy-weight players.

After going to the polls three times in the space of five months to elect representatives at all levels of government, it could well be October before Indonesians get a clear picture of their new leaders.

And with such a complex system, Chusnul Maria of the Indonesian Election Commission acknowledged that there was potential for things to go awry.

"Building democracy is like building a house," she said. "We are just laying the foundations in Indonesia, it's too soon to expect us to fix the holes in the roof."

Female quotas for Indonesia poll
19 Feb 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Indonesia election runners named
08 Dec 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Indonesia
13 Nov 03  |  Country profiles



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