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President Heads For Defeat in Indonesia Vote

Retired General Projected to Win Big

By Alan Sipress
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, September 21, 2004; Page A15

JAKARTA, Indonesia, Sept. 21 -- Indonesian voters, frustrated by pervasive corruption and economic malaise, ousted President Megawati Sukarnoputri in a runoff election Monday, awarding her former chief security minister a decisive victory to run the world's most populous Muslim nation, according to partial returns and a independent projection.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, 55, a retired army general with U.S. military training who portrays himself as a cautious reformer, was on track to capture about 61 percent of the vote, according to the projection.


Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, 55, is projected to win the election by a comfortable margin. (Achmad Ibrahim -- AP)

The results marked a stunning change of fortune for Megawati, once adored by many for continuing the leadership of her father, Sukarno, founder of the modern Indonesian nation. If confirmed in final tallies, Yudhoyono's victory would be a rare example of a peaceful democratic transition in Southeast Asia, where heads of government and their parties are seldom turned out of office by a popular vote.

Megawati's defeat comes 37 years after her father was forced out of the presidency. But while he fell victim to a military-backed coup, she is exiting as the result of a democratic process that she helped consolidate and that may be one of her most noteworthy legacies.

The peaceful balloting defied the predictions of foreign diplomats and security experts who said terrorist attacks or campaign violence might disrupt the voting. Indonesia has repeatedly been the scene of bombings by radical groups associated with al Qaeda. As security chief, Yudhoyono directed much of the country's effort against those groups.

Shortly after polls closed, he was projected as the winner by the Institute for Social and Economic Research, Education and Information, which is backed by the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute. The two organizations had accurately predicted the outcome of the first round of voting two months ago, in which Yudhoyono and Megawati emerged as finalists from a field of five contenders.

As of midday Tuesday, results representing more than half of about 120 million ballots cast showed Yudhoyono and his running mate, Jusuf Kalla, a former chief social welfare minister, winning three-fifths of the votes. They were carrying nearly all of the country's 32 provinces and rolling up a large majority on Indonesia's main island of Java. Only on Bali, where Megawati, 57, has family roots, was she enjoying a comfortable lead.

The national election commission estimated turnout at 80 percent.

The task of conveying vote totals to the capital, Jakarta, from more than half a million polling stations, some deep in the rainforest and others high in the mountains, means that a full tally of ballots will not be available for at least several days.

Speaking Monday evening at his home in a suburb south of Jakarta, Yudhoyono called for reconciliation between the rival camps, which engaged in often bitter competition after he bolted the cabinet in March to challenge Megawati.

"I'd like to thank God that this election has been done peacefully and democratically," said Yudhoyono, dressed in a formal, black-and-white batik shirt. "I have to thank President Megawati Sukarnoputri for laying down the foundation" for establishing direct presidential elections.

A moderate Muslim described by his associates as an intellectual, Yudhoyono would head into a five-year term with one of the broadest electoral mandates ever afforded an Indonesian leader. But governing could be a challenge for him because his Democrat Party is a minor player in parliament, having gained only 7 percent of the votes in legislative balloting in April.

In the 1990s, during the final years of President Suharto's three-decade rule, Megawati became a symbol of the country's democratic aspirations. After Suharto was toppled by mass protests, she led her party to victory in elections in 1999. She served as vice president under President Abdurrahman Wahid, then became president after he was impeached for incompetence.

Monday's results underscored how aloof and reclusive Megawati had become. Though she emerged from the palace in recent weeks at the urging of advisers to stump in schools and markets, her overall campaign strategy was centered on forming an alliance with old-time politicians from several major parties, including Suharto's Golkar movement, in the hope their machinery could churn out votes. Ultimately, vast numbers of party members abandoned their bosses to support the challenger.


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