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Indonesia Court Dismisses Presidential Vote Challenge - 2004-08-09

Indonesia's most controversial politician has lost the court challenge that might have allowed him to pursue his presidential ambitions. But the court's decision was also another milestone in the long road to democracy.

Presidential candidate General Wiranto went to court when it became clear he would not be one of the contenders for president in the run-off elections scheduled for September 20. His lawyers argued that the general came in third because of ballot rigging and confusion resulting from double-punched ballots.

In a unanimous decision Monday, the Constitutional Court found against the general, calling his petition baseless. The two finalists are now the incumbent President Megawati Sukarnoputri and her former security minister, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Mr. Yudhoyono is ahead in the polls.

General Wiranto was standing for the country's biggest party, Golkar.

"I think this decision will clearly accelerate what is going on," says Keith Loveard, an analyst with Concord Consulting in Jakarta. "It has been clear all along that Wiranto would not get the green light from the Constitutional Court. People who voted for Golkar earlier, now they have to make up their choice."

General Wiranto, a former aide to disgraced former President Suharto, was once head of the armed forces, and in that capacity was charged by an East Timorese court with crimes against humanity.

The charges were filed after the violence surrounding East Timor's vote for independence five years ago.

This is the first time Indonesians have directly elected their president, and there have been fears that entrenched political powers would try to manipulate the process, including street protests. But so far, the election has proceeded with few outbreaks of violence, which has drawn praise from international monitors.