Former Dictator's Party Looking Strong as Indonesia Counts Votes

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - As vote-counting continues in Indonesia's legislative election, the results so far point to a likely comeback for the party of former dictator Gen. Suharto, while placing a former security minister in a strong position ahead of presidential elections in July.

With just below 22 million votes counted out of an electorate of 147 million eligible voters, the Golkar party associated with the ousted general is running neck-and-neck with President Megawati Sukarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), both in the vicinity of 20-21 percent.

The results so far indicate a significant drop in support for the president's party, which won 34 percent in 1999 elections, to Golkar's 22.5 percent.

That election, Indonesia's first truly democratic poll, came a year after Suharto's 32-year rule abruptly ended, and analysts say the electorate punished Golkar.

But the party has regained popularity among Indonesians unhappy with Megawati's low-key governing style and continuing economic problems.

With 24 parties competing in the elections, none is expected to win an outright majority, a fact that is prompting observers to debate numerous permutations for potential coalitions in the months ahead.

All parties winning at least three percent of the parliamentary seats are eligible to put up candidates for the country's first direct presidential election in three months' time.

Until recently, Golkar had spoken of the possibility of an alliance and joint ticket with the presumably victorious PDI-P, but Golkar leader Akbar Tanjung is now ruling that out, saying his party will put up its own candidate.

As Golkar considers its rising fortunes, attention is also focused on newcomer Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, considered an effective security minister until he resigned last month amid differences with Megawati.

Susilo's small and newly-formed Democratic Party has fared better than expected, with observers predicting it could achieve seven percent of the votes.

The interest in Susilo prompted the Jakarta Post to describe him as the "new, cute girl at school" whom everyone wants to court as the post-election maneuvering gets underway.

At a press conference at his home, Susilo confirmed that he had been meeting with "several party leaders," and speculation is rife over whether he would accept a second place to another party's leader on a joint ticket, or himself stand for president.

Susilo said it was hard to envisage joining a coalition with the PDI-P after his rift with the president.

He cautioned that "the new political landscape will only emerge a week from now."

With millions of votes still to be tallied across the sprawling archipelago, the party placings as they currently stand could well change.

Nonetheless, the strong showing for Susilo's Democratic Party and for an Islamic grouping called the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) suggests that the dominance of the Golkar and PDI-P may be over.

The "big two" were among just three parties allowed during the Suharto era, with the third being a Muslim-based party.

Another emerging force in Indonesian politics is the PKS, an Islamist party which opposes U.S. policies in the Middle East, but which set aside its Islamic agenda during the campaign to focus instead on corruption.

In 1999, PKS got only 1.4 percent of the vote, but results in 2004 so far place it above seven percent, or in the vicinity of the Democratic Party.

During election campaign rallies, PKS managed to draw the largest crowds.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow