It took 45 days of exuberant, noisy, and occasionally violent election campaigning before ballots were finally cast in the oil-rich island nation of Indonesia.
In the end, the country's ruling Golkar ''group'' -- it doesn't like to be called a party -- claimed victory with 64 percent of the vote.
The government calls these every-fifth-year exercises ''festivals'' of democracy. Critics liken them to a circus. What is clear is that they do not materially affect the political development of this archipelago of 151 million.
President Suharto seems securely ensconced in power for as long as he wishes. The 360 members of parliament elected last week will play only a limited part in affairs of state. Their influence is also restricted because several hundred government appointees will join them to elect a president next spring -- presumably President Suharto, who is widely expected to accept a fourth five-year term.
The President's critics in the establishment -- the intellectuals and others who have in the past charged rampant corruption in high places - seem exhausted. The few who continue to attack the President are turned in effect into nonpersons by the simple method of directing the press to ignore their statements.
The present leaders offer stability, keeping a tight grip on security and, as one Indonesian commentator puts it, ''ruling the country from hour to hour.'' And after the flamboyant chaos of the Sukarno years and the subsequent massacres of 1965 -- when, according to the army, about 500,000 suspected sympathizers and members of the Indonesian Communist Party died after an alleged communist coup attempt -- President Suharto provides comparative peace and quiet. In return for this, those who remember the bad old days seem on the whole willing to overlook the corruption of the present regime.
Meanwhile, the government seems to view the elections as exercises in legitimacy -- proof that the country is indeed run by national ''consensus'' or ''unity in diversity'' and not by the bickering of political parties.
For the ruling Golkar group, its 47.2 million votes (64 percent) represents a gain of almost 3 percent over the last such ballot. But the main opposition group, the Muslim United Development Party (PPP), which won 20.7 million votes ( 28.4 percent), has charged instances of election fraud. The opposition has urged a recount in parts of Jakarta, saying that Golkar supporters sometimes voted twice and that opposition voters were denied ballots.
For many ordinary people the campaign was plain good fun -- and the chance to earn a little extra income. Both Golkar and the PPP are known to have paid ''presence money'' to a good proportion of those who turned out for their rallies. Golkar offered up to $9, about 10 times the minimum daily wage, the PPP rather less; supporters of another (more hard-up) opposition party, the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI), had to settle for a T-shirt.
The rallies themselves were an impressive sight: hundreds of thousands of people roaring through Jakarta's streets in massive, slightly ramshackle motorcades, flags flying and horns blaring. The many motorcycles in the parade add to the ear-splitting noise by the fact that they had removed their mufflers.
Although the rallies looked alike, bystanders' reactions to them were sometimes sharply different. The PPP and the PDI drew warm response from watching crowds. Golkar processions were often treated with blank indifference - or worse.
The violence of the campaign took everyone by surprise. There was, one Indonesian observer remarked, ''a disturbing sense of anger'' in many of the poorer sections of Jakarta. Much of it was directed at Golkar. One of the first Golkar rallies ended in a riot, with up to 12 dead. The last Golkar rally resulted in a series of clashes that left at least eight dead and 97 wounded when troops fired on demonstrators who attacked the procession.
Two-thirds of Indonesia's population is under 30. Not old enough to remember clearly the bad old days of Sukarno and massacre, they seem impatient for a change, restless, and less ready to accept tight government control.
Moreover, the economic boom that has given Indonesia unprecedented growth over the last eight years may be running out as oil prices, its main support, decline. Oil revenues have for the past few years provided almost 70 percent of Indonesia's budget. None of Indonesia's other exportable products will be able to make up the shortfall if oil prices continue to drop.
For the time being, there are no political groupings in Indonesia able to profit from crisis. Despite their present opposition, the PPP and the PDI sometimes seem to work with the government.
But significant changes may be under way. While some Western scholars doubt that an Iran-style Islamic revival is likely in Indonesia, some members of the powerful Muslim Student Movement are conducting what one Muslim leader calls ''Khomeini-type training'' in villages and campuses.
In another move of potentially great significance, effort is under way to withdraw the main body of the Nahdatul Ulama (NU), the largest component of the PPP, from the government-sponsored alliance. Moderate Muslim leader Abdurrahman Wahid, one of those involved in this effort, says he wants to see the NU concentrate on grass-roots development and human rights. If even part of NU's 14 million members do set up such a separate organization, the government could find itself with a serious opponent.