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Runoff Likely in Indonesian Presidential Election - 2004-07-05

In Indonesia, an independent monitoring group projects that former Security Minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has placed first in Monday's presidential elections, with one-third of the vote. This means that a run-off election will be necessary, but the monitoring group also says that the race for second place, between President Megawati Sukarnoputri and former army chief General Wiranto, is too close to call.

The head of the National Democratic Institute, Paul Rowland, says the projection confirms public opinion polls published on the eve of the election. "That means that we have a clear first place finisher and a second and third that is very, very close," he said.

If no candidate wins at least 50 percent of the vote, the two top finishers will compete in a September runoff. But Mr. Rowland says his group cannot project who will face Mr. Yudhoyono. President Megawati Sukarnoputri and her former military commander, General Wiranto, are within one percentage point of each other, making the race for second place too close to call.

The projection, based on a statistical survey of 1,500 polling stations across Indonesia, has predicted previous election results within one percentage point.

If confirmed, the runoff will pit Mr. Yudohoyono and his appeal as a force for change against the status quo as represented by President Megawati, or nostalgia for the relative prosperity under the military government as represented by retired General Wiranto. Mr. Wiranto is the candidate of the party that dominated during that era.

A large number of votes were invalidated when voters folded their ballots and mistakenly punched more than one hole in them.

Wimar Witoelar, speaking for a group of 30 monitoring organizations, known as the JPPR, called on the national election commission, the KPU, to recount all the damaged ballots.

"The JPPR is requesting, is demanding that the KPU clear this up first, because the credibility and the perception of fairness is more important than what actually transpired at the polls," he said.

Voters went to the polls in large numbers Monday, and said the voting was smoother and simpler than in earlier votes.

Thousands of international monitors observed the balloting. One of these, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, had high praise for the process. "This is a wonderful transition from authoritarian rule to pure democratic rule in just six years," he said.

Official results are expected in several weeks.