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Small parties start strong in vote JAKARTA - Elections for a new Parliament proceeded smoothly on Monday with early and unofficial counts from polling places here in the capital showing surprising strength for two small parties, including an Islamic party. But election experts warned that this trend was unlikely to hold in the vital rural areas where most voters live and where the two major secular parties have strongholds.
These two parties - the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, headed by President Megawati Sukarnoputri, and Golkar, the party founded by the former dictator Suharto - were expected to be in a tight race. But there were signs of dissatisfaction with these parties. In a poor early showing for Mrs. Megawati and her party, though, SCTV television reported Monday that with almost all the ballots counted in the Jakarta neighborhood where she cast her vote, the new party of her former security minister, Gen. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, had won. In another precinct, in a Jakarta military complex, the soldiers ignored the two major parties and cast their ballots for General Susilo's new party and for the Islamic Justice Party.
The election, which also included races for regional and provincial legislatures, was Indonesia's second free parliamentary election since Suharto fell from power six years ago. Final results may not be known for more than two weeks, although trends should be known sooner. There were reports that voting went smoothly in Banda Aceh, the capital of the northern province of Aceh, where a civil conflict was considered a major barrier to a fair vote.
Voters across the country seemed most concerned with the weak economy and a feeling that living standards, including medical services and schools, had fallen. Religion seemed to play little role in the campaign. At polling places in Jakarta on Monday, the atmosphere was friendly and peaceful as voters turned up at the opening hour of 7 a.m., registered and then sat patiently to be called to cast their ballots. Voters had to contend with ballots as big as a standard newspaper, with 24 parties fielding candidates.
In one neighborhood, the polling place was an impromptu affair of a tarpaulin strung from rickety bamboo poles across a vacant lot strewn with rubbish. In the early afternoon, rain splattered onto the tin voting booths as election officials struggled to move them to a dry area. In a wealthier area, a fancy open-sided tent often used for weddings sheltered the ballot boxes and election officials. A caterer provided platters of snacks.
Overall, election officials said, they received few reports of violence. Turnout was high across the country, more than 90 percent in some places, said Gunawan Hiday, the leader of a private group, People's Voters Education Network, which provided 142,000 observers nationwide. The leader of a 220-member observer team from the European Union, Glyn Ford, said that with the exception of many missing ballots in the far eastern province of Irian Jaya, the voting had proceeded without incident.
In a precinct in the suburb of Kebayoran Baru where Mr. Ford observed the count, the Justice Party, which favors a system of Islamic law, swept the field for the national Parliament, and the Democrat Party of General Susilo came in second. Such early results suggested that these two parties would be able to field candidates for the presidency in elections in July. The Justice Party ran a tightly organized anti-corruption campaign that played down its religious platform and used its 400,000 cadres to knock on doors and organize meetings.
An opinion poll released just days before the election showed General Susilo ahead of Ms. Megawati, who has been criticized for lackluster leadership combined with a taint of corruption throughout the government. General Susilo, who until recently was in the Megawati cabinet, surfaced as a popular candidate based on his military background and his image as a clean politician.
"I like General Susilo - he's a strong leader," said Rocksy Situmeang, 27, a doctor who supported Ms. Megawati last time, as she cast her vote in Tangerang in south Jakarta. "We gave them five years and they blew it. There's no way I would vote for Golkar. I was at university when we went onto the streets and made them fall." At another polling place in east Jakarta, Wisesa, 28, who like most Indonesians uses only one name, said he had chosen the Justice Party candidate hoping the party would bring change. "They are a sympathetic party and care for the people," he said.

Posted in Elections @ 06 April 2004 00:01 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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