Golkar looks set to take the lead

Smaller parties make inroads at expense of Mega’s PDI-P in some cities.

Millions of Indonesians went to the polls yesterday, with the once-powerful Golkar looking set to make a comeback.

Five years after its euphoric victory, President Megawati Sukarnoputri’s Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) appeared to be losing ground in the first phase of the vote count.

It faced a challenge not just from its arch rival but also with newer parties eating into its share of the vote.

Preliminary results of the legislative election last night suggested the Democratic Party (PD) and the Islamic-based Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) were making strong gains in parts of Jakarta and other cities.

But Golkar chairman Akbar Tandjung, who was in touch with party officials tracking vote counts around the country, told The Straits Times yesterday that he expected Golkar to secure more than 25 per cent of the votes.

‘We will win because we have got the experience. We were in power for 32 years. PDI-P and the newer parties can’t fight us.’

But PDI-P leaders brushed aside any talk of defeat. The President’s influential husband, Mr Taufik Kiemas, said: ‘We might lose in Jakarta but we will win big in other areas. We will capture at least 35 per cent of the votes.’

The outcome of this election is critical, as it could determine the shape of the presidential election in July. There has been talk of the PDI-P wanting a coalition with Golkar to forge an unbeatable joint ticket.

But a strong win by Golkar will strengthen its hand in any coalition talks. It may even embolden party leaders to go for broke.

A better than expected showing by smaller parties may also change the dynamics of such negotiations, with dark horse candidates emerging as players needing to be courted.

But given the size of Indonesia and the logistical challenges in the election – one of the biggest polling exercises in the world – it might be a day or two before enough votes for the 550-seat national legislature are counted to show a clear trend.

About 595,000 polling stations opened in stages across the three time zones of the sprawling archipelago amid tight security.

As of press time last night, fewer than 100,000 of the estimated 147 million votes had been tallied officially, although counts were under way around the country.

These have been closely watched by party leaders, with the mood in the various camps changing by the hour as reports of how the voting was going streamed in.

Observers noted that while parties such as the PKS and PD, led by popular general Bambang Yudhoyono, might have done well in some cities, they were unlikely to have the same pull in rural areas, where the Big Two were still dominant.

Five years ago, Golkar secured 22.4 per cent of the votes but the PDI-P clinched the race with 33.7 per cent.

Since then, the political mood in Indonesia has seen a gradual shift away from post-New Order concerns such as democracy to more pressing bread-and-butter issues.

Like Golkar, the PDI-P is strong in the heartland, especially in Java where it is riding on the popularity of Ms Megawati, daughter of Indonesia’s first president.

A strong showing in these outlying areas could give PDI-P, and especially Golkar, a late boost.

This could set the stage for a nail-biting finish with the margin separating the top parties narrowing as more results trickle in.

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