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Analysts: Parliamentary Elections Shaping Outcome of Indonesian Presidential Campaign - 2004-04-12

The vote count continues from last week's Indonesian elections, with the ruling party and the party of the country's onetime authoritarian ruler running nearly even, each with about 20 percent of the vote. The parliamentary polls are a prelude for Indonesia's first direct presidential election in July. The current president will apparently face an uphill battle to hold on to her office.

In the 1999 campaign, Megawati Sukarnopurtri drew large cheering crowds at the rallies organized by her Peoples' Democratic Justice Party, the PDIP. Her status as the daughter of Sukarno, the founder of modern Indonesia, garnered the PDIP a solid 34 percent of the vote, and put her into the strongest position when it came time for parliament to choose a president.

Five-years later, the cheers have faded away and things are very different this time around. Ms. Megawati has suffered a sharp - and perhaps irreversible - turn of political fortune. The PDIP's percentage has slipped by around 14 points and it is barely holding even with Golkar, the party that once dominated Indonesian politics. In July, the president will be chosen by direct vote for the first time in Indonesian history.

Konrad Huber, a former U.N. adviser in Indonesia now with the Council on Foreign Relations, says Ms. Megawati was the victim of a sluggish economy - and her own reticent personality. "In the last three years, she has not really delivered on any serious economic recovery or any direct, concrete improvements in peoples' lives," he said. "And most people are put off by her sort of taciturn and standoffish manner, and she seems to just not be very engaged with peoples' problems."

On the other hand, Golkar seems not to have improved its standing much, but did not lose much ground, either. There remains, says Mr. Huber, some nostalgia for the Suharto days. "Golkar, on the other hand, is associated with the relative stability and prosperity of the Suharto era," he said. "And people are very nostalgic for the low prices and affordable cost of living of that period."

The Democrat Party of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the former security minister in Ms. Megawati's cabinet, made a surprisingly strong showing for a new party. The Islamic-based Prosperous Justice Party also fared well.

But Donald Emmerson, director of the Southeast Asia Forum at Stanford University, is among those analysts who discount that there is any newfound desire for an Islamic state. The party, he notes, ran not on an Islamic platform of implementing an Islamic legal code but, on traditional issues of the economy and corruption.

"There remains," he said, "a fundamentally moderate overwhelming majority of Muslims in the Indonesian electorate that is frankly much more concerned about issues like corruption, the lagging economy, the crime rate - basic questions like that - how do I get my kids into a decent school - that is what it seems to me really concerns the Indonesian electorate, not some unrealistic dream of installing an Islamic state."

The presidential vote will be held on July 5. If no party gets a majority, the top two vote-getting tickets will face each other in a run-off in September. Mr. Emmerson says the political bargaining season in Jakarta is already underway.

"What we are in now is a phase of intense political maneuvering in Jakarta to try to translate the results of the April [5] parliamentary election into power positions that can determine winning tickets in the fifth of July presidential election," he said.

Most analysts believe Golkar and the PDIP will form an electoral coalition for the presidential vote. They say such a combined ticket could prove to be virtually unbeatable if they can come to agreement on whose candidate will take the top spot on the ticket - and if the April parliamentary vote shares carry over to the July presidential poll.