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Indonesian Election Results Could Bring Radical Changes - 2004-04-10

With almost half the votes counted from last Monday's Indonesian elections, the incumbent ruling party is maintaining a very slight lead. But the final results could bring radical change to Indonesia's political landscape.

President Megawati Sukarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, known by its Indonesian initials PDIP, was barely ahead in the count Saturday, with a little more than 20 percent of the vote. The country's other big secular-nationalist party, Golkar, was trailing by less than half a percent.

Observers, including the Washington-based National Democratic Institute, expect Golkar to end up with a slight lead when all the ballots are counted, but that might be some weeks away.

According to projections derived from a survey run by NDI and a number of local institutions, Golkar will end up with just under 23 percent of the vote, followed by Mrs. Megawati's party with 19 percent.

With neither expected to win anything close to a majority, party leaders are already discussing possible coalitions, and the results are promising to change Indonesia's political landscape radically.

New parties, such as the Democrat Party of former security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and the Party of Justice and Prosperity, an Islamic group, have won substantial backing, and may well play a crucial role in setting policy in the next government.

Some of the 24 parties contesting the elections have demanded a recount of all the ballots, which would be a huge job in a country with 147 million registered voters. The parties say the original count at the regional level was not transparent enough.

Paul Rowland, the resident representative of the National Democratic Institute in Jakarta, says that although the complaints may be partly political posturing, there may also be genuine grounds for a challenge.

"If the parties were not allowed to monitor or observe some of the paper counting process or the physical counting process that continues today, then that would be a cause for concern for the parties, and potentially cause for a challenge," he said.

Some electoral observers have been warning since before the vote that the logistical and systemic complications of the ballot could lead to challenges by parties unhappy with the outcome.