Jakarta jitters as polls enter Round 2

Bambang-Megawati race confirmed but blast at election commission HQ sparks worries that things may turn nasty now.

In an ominous sign, a blast went off at the Indonesian election commission building yesterday, hours before the official announcement of the results of the July presidential polls.

Although the low-powered explosive planted in a ground-floor toilet did little damage and nobody was hurt, it triggered off security fears as Indonesia heads into a volatile race to determine who will be the country’s next president – incumbent Megawati Sukarnoputri or retired general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Mr Bambang won the most votes in the July 5 polls but obtained less than the 50 per cent needed to avoid a second round of voting on Sept 20 against the runner-up, Ms Megawati.

The final tally gave him 33.5 per cent of the votes cast in the first round, while Ms Megawati took second place with 26.6 per cent and former general Wiranto, third with 22.2 per cent.

The prospects for Mr Bambang, 55, look good according to two surveys conducted over the past week but not yet made public.

The Washington-based Independent Foundation for Electoral Systems found that 65 per cent of voters would back him against 25 per cent for Ms Megawati.

Another poll, by the Indonesian Survey Institute, came up with similar findings.

Mr Bambang told The Straits Times: ‘I have asked my election team to try and achieve at least 60 per cent in the second round. I know it is going to be a tough fight but I am confident we can do it.’

His camp is banking on a direct appeal to the grassroots whereas Ms Megawati is courting different political parties aggressively to tap their nationwide networks and voter base.

The largest party, Golkar, appears close to joining her camp as her Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) pushes ahead to build a grand coalition.

Golkar chairman Akbar Tandjung, who held talks with the President and her influential husband, Mr Taufik Kiemas, recently, said: ‘We have about two months to catch up. Bambang may lose the momentum.

‘Two months is a very long time in politics. So, don’t write us off yet because we have several cards to play that can defeat him.’

While the first round of campaigning was relatively peaceful, some observers now fear that things may turn ugly in the fight to the finish.

Mr Bambang’s aides warn that there may be ‘moves to engineer political instability’ while analysts see possible clashes between rival supporters.

Others are worried about the reaction of candidates who crashed out in the first round.

A PDI-P legislator explained: ‘Our biggest fear is that the losers of the first round will not go away quietly.’

Aside from Mr Wiranto, the first-round losers were National Assembly chairman Amien Rais, who won 14.7 per cent of the vote, and Vice-President Hamzah Haz, who finished last with only 3 per cent.

Mr Wiranto, Golkar’s candidate, has already alleged flaws in the vote count and threatened to go to court.

A legal challenge could raise political tensions and that, in turn, could hurt the economy.

As an indication of the jittery mood, news of the blast yesterday caused the rupiah to fall to its lowest in more than three weeks.

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