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Ballot Confusion Prompts Possible Indonesian Recount - 2004-07-06

Ballot confusion in Indonesia has prompted a possible recount in the country's first direct presidential elections.

The dispute has erupted over ballot papers that had more than one hole punched in them.

After Monday's elections, votes were counted at the approximately 600,000 polling stations. Some stations mistakenly failed to count ballots that were double punched because voters did not bother to unfold the sheets fully.

By the time that the Electoral Commission realized there was a problem and issued a clarification, many polling officers and electoral observers had closed shop and gone home.

Now at least one group of observers is calling for a complete recount of the ballot, a huge job in a country with 155 million registered voters.

The problem has cast a shadow over what was otherwise a triumph of logistical organization in a country composed of 13,000 islands and only in its sixth year of democracy.

Analysts are worried that the dispute could provide a window for some of the losing candidates to dispute the result.

Paul Rowland, head of the Washington-based monitoring group National Democratic Institute, said "it's not likely to have an effect on who finishes first, given that the percentage of invalid ballots we found as a percentage of polling stations was nine-point-one percent. But it is possible it could effect the second place finisher."

Former security minister, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, came first in Monday's election with a clear margin, but he failed to get the 50 percent necessary to avoid a runoff in September. He will stand against the runner up, but second and third positions were only separated by a relatively small number of votes.

According to a quick count carried out by NDI and local organizations, the incumbent, President Megawati Sukarnoputri, has only a small lead over General Wiranto, the former head of the armed forces who is the candidate of Indonesia's largest political party, Golkar.

The disputed ballots are being recounted, but it could take significant time.