Indonesia's Democratic Trend

The first thing to emphasize about Indonesia's June 7 election is that it took place at all. This was only the second free election in the country's history; the other was held in 1955. True, the count has been slow, and concerns about fraud have swirled, but they haven't been substantiated.

Moreover, the balloting and the campaign that preceded it were remarkably peaceful, considering the political and economic turmoil of the past year. Indonesians appear ready to move on to a new, more democratic phase of national development.

But the exhilaration of the election has given way to worries about what happens next. The party of Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of independence leader Sukarno, has a strong plurality of votes. Its lead should hold once the final count is in, July 8. But her Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle will have to link up with other parties to get the parliamentary majority needed to make Megawati president. Her most likely coalition partners are prominent Muslim politicians, yet she faces opposition from some Muslim traditionalists, who don't want a woman president.

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Still in the running for the presidency is the Golkar Party of former strong man Suharto, now led by his protg B.J. Habibie. Since Suharto's ouster last year, Mr. Habibie has served as president and has overseen needed reforms. But he and his party are tainted by the autocratic past.

Remnants of that past persist in the system for choosing a president. The June 7 vote selected members of the People's Consultative Assembly, not a president. That body will convene this fall and choose the new president in November.

The assembly isn't as packed with appointive members as it was under Suharto, for whom it was a rubber stamp. But of its 700 seats, the military still has an obligatory 38; another 200 seats are also appointive, going to special interests, like professional groups, or to regional representatives. A small, unelected block like the military's could end up swinging a deadlocked assembly one way or the other. An even greater concern is that vote-buying could determine the outcome.

The strongest safeguard against such tendencies is the public's clear desire for an end to government riddled with corruption and nepotism. The newly elected assembly members should honor that desire, select a credible leader, and maintain Indonesia's democratic trend - which must include devising an electoral system less prone to manipulation.

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