Party of former dictator claims win in election

Thursday, April 15, 2004

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- The leader of the party once led by Indonesian dictator Suharto claimed victory Wednesday in parliamentary elections that were a major setback to President Megawati Sukarnoputri. The Golkar party had 20.81 percent with about two-thirds the results counted from the April 5 vote. That's less than one percentage point ahead of Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, but ballots from Golkar's strongholds have yet to be counted and its lead is likely to increase. Golkar chief Akbar Tandjung declared his party the winner. A victory would be a huge success for the party that was Suharto's main political machine in his 32-year rule, especially ahead of landmark presidential elections in July.

"We are already number one. We are the winners of this election and we will fight for the presidency," Tandjung said.

Either way, the results are damaging for Megawati, whose party won significantly more of the vote -- 34 percent -- in legislative elections five years ago.

Megawati, the daughter of Indonesia's founding father Sukarno, has been credited with bringing political and economic stability to Indonesia since she came to power in 2001. But critics say she is too aloof and has done nothing to crack down on graft or improve living standards for the country's millions of poor.

Underscoring that shift, a poll released Wednesday said 84 percent of Indonesians want a new president ahead of the July 5 vote that will be the nation's first direct election for the presidency. Until now, presidents were selected by lawmakers.

The poll says that Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a retired army general and a former member of Megawati's cabinet, is the favorite with about 28 percent.

Megawati got 14 percent, while Tandjung was not even among the top five. The survey, by the London-based group Taylor Nelson, was conducted among 1,016 voters across Indonesia between March 26-April 1 and had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

"She has no hope of retaining the presidency," said Arbi Sanit, political sciences professor at the University of Indonesia.

If the survey's results bear out, no single candidate would win more than 50 percent. That would force a September run-off between the top two vote-getters.

The survey is the first to be released since the poor showing by Megawati's party in the April 5 election.

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