Indonesia heads for election run-off

Posted in Other | 06-Jul-04 | Author: John Aglionby| Source: Guardian

Indonesian presidential front runner Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono refers to a big screen showing the current election result.
Retired general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono last night emerged as the leader in the race to become Indonesia's first directly elected president.

But he was unlikely to gain an overall majority and was expected to face a run-off in a second round of voting in September, a coalition of non-governmental organisations announced last night after analysing returns from more than 1,500 polling stations.

The results of the quick count made it too close to predict who the general would face in the second round after the incumbent, Megawati Sukarnoputri, and another former general, Wiranto, were within 1.1 percentage point of each other.

The late-night announcement capped a day of drama when millions of voters accidentally spoilt their ballots. Election organisers were forced to intervene, rule the votes valid and order a recount.

The Washington-based National Democratic Institute and its local partners predicted Mr Bambang would win 33.9%, Ms Megawati 24.9% and Mr Wiranto 23.8%. The other contenders, Amien Rais and Hamzah Haz, were projected to win 14.6% and 2.9% respectively.

The nationwide recount will delay the results of the poll in which more than 155 million people spread across 13,000 islands and three time zones were eligible to vote.

The confusion stemmed from the large size of the ballot paper, which many voters did not bother to unfold completely before making their choice. This was done by piercing the paper with a nail.

As a result of some papers being folded, the nail made two holes instead of one, technically invalidating the ballot. It is uncertain how many votes were affected, but observers predicted it could be well over 10%. The turnout was estimated at about 80%.

Nazaruddin Sjamsuddin, the head of the electoral commission, said it was only fair to include such spoilt ballots. He said: "We're aware these votes, those that resulted in two holes, were not done intentionally."

He said the electoral commission had decided to declare valid those votes which had holes through the picture of one candidate, even though a second hole could have appeared elsewhere on the sheet.

However he accepted no responsibility for the confusion. "This was caused by voters' carelessness," he said. "The commission had done a lot of publicity about how to vote."

Observers said voting, like the month-long campaign, appeared to have passed without major incident, although there were reports of tens of thousands of ballot papers failing to reach polling stations on some remote islands off Sumatra because of bad weather.

Election officials reported that voting was peaceful and largely free of problems but had got off to a slow start in the capital, where many football fans were sleeping late after staying up to watch the European championship final.

"Up until the counting everything was fine in the capital and the general feeling across the country was the same," said Glyn Ford, a British MEP leading the 232-member European Union observer mission. "But we are not clear if this was the result of the origami voting."

Most voters seemed unfazed by the chaos and focused instead on the importance of the occasion. "This is such an historic day," said Dianah Fitri, a model voting in south Jakarta. "We've never had the opportunity to vote for our leaders before. I think everyone wants it to be a success, whoever wins."

Indonesia's president was previously elected by the 700 members of the supreme assembly.