Violence returned to the streets of Jakarta today as riot policemen opened fire on bottle-throwing leftist protesters who were demanding that the ruling Golkar party be disqualified from last month's parliamentary elections. At least two dozen people were injured, news agencies and protest leaders reported.
The outburst of violence was the first sign that frustration and suspicion are mounting because of the extremely slow vote count. The election took place June 7, but less than two-thirds of the vote has been tallied, and election officials are warning that a July 8 deadline for completing the count may have to be extended.
"We are all very frustrated," top presidential adviser Dewi Fortuna Anwar said at a business luncheon. And she warned that the presidential selection process could be put off into next year -- a scenario almost certain to evoke more protests and possible violence by forces who fear that President B.J. Habibie may be trying to cling to power.
The next president is currently scheduled to be chosen in November in voting by the 462 newly elected members of parliament together with 238 appointed members, including representatives of the armed forces. Anwar today said the process could take three months.
Golkar -- the party of discredited dictator Suharto and his hand-picked successor, Habibie -- has inched up into second place in the vote count, with 21 percent. In first place, with 34 percent, is Megawati Sukarnoputri's Democratic Party of Struggle.
Today's protest outside the office of the General Election Commission was organized by the small, left-leaning People's Democratic Party, or PRD. The 1,500 demonstrators, many shouting "Revolution!" were demanding that Golkar be disqualified from contention, claiming that it had rigged the vote count and used its formidable cash reserves to buy votes in the outlying provinces, where it is showing strength.
The commission office has been the scene of almost daily protests since the vote count began, but most of the rallies have been small and generally peaceful. Today, however, the protesters were blocked by a thick cordon of riot policemen.
Police said the violence began when the protesters tried to break through their blockade. Protest leaders said, however, that police began attacking the front line of demonstrators, hitting them with truncheons and shields, then opened fire.
Lt. Col. Iman Haryatna, Jakarta's police chief, said the protesters began throwing rocks at the police line, but demonstration leaders disputed this. "The police started to hit the front line of the demonstrators, and of course everyone fought back," said Gandi Setiayadi, the PRD's general secretary for West Java. "Then, without warning of any kind, they started shooting at the demonstrators."
The Jakarta Post said five of the 24 hospitalized victims were shot, but it was unclear if they were hit by live ammunition or rubber bullets. Police said the officers on duty had only rubber bullets.