Indonesia's presidential front-runner, Megawati Sukarnoputri, proclaimed victory today for her political party and staked her strongest claim yet to the presidency, demanding that the current government step aside and make way for her new administration.
"I have received a mandate to form a new government and to carry out the wishes of the people," Megawati said in her most detailed policy speech to date. "I ask the present government to step down from the throne."
"The people trust me to lead the nation," she added.
Results from the June 7 elections have yet to be made official because of a series of bureaucratic delays, but unofficial tallies show Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P, winning 34 percent of the votes and the ruling Golkar party placing second with 22 percent.
An electoral college is scheduled to meet later this year to pick a new president, but increasing delays in the vote count may postpone it.
After weeks of enigmatic silence following the election, Megawati answered her critics with a 90-minute speech to an audience of diplomats and political allies, outlining her policies on several key issues, including the question of East Timor and the role of the military.
In a voice breaking with emotion, Megawati, 52, lashed out at President B.J. Habibie's election bid as an attempt to "deny the mandate of the people" and demanded that the current "transitional" government immediately stop pursuing its policies.
At one point, Megawati broke down into tears as she appealed for patience and national unity from the restive province of Aceh, the staunchly Islamic region of northwest Indonesia in the throes of a separatist insurgency. Last week, 43 people were killed there in an anti-separatist raid by the military.
While Megawati said her government would respect the outcome of a U.N.-supervised independence ballot in East Timor next month, she said Habibie had "ignored the constitution" by agreeing to the referendum without consulting parliament, thereby setting a "worrying precedent."
She stressed that whatever the outcome of the East Timor vote, no similar ballot would be held to resolve any of Indonesia's other separatist struggles.
In the past, Megawati had insisted that the former Portuguese colony, which Indonesia invaded in 1975 and annexed the following year, remain a part of the sprawling island nation. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer met with Megawati on Wednesday night and said she remained "noncommittal" on East Timor's future.
Megawati also steered clear of protesters' demands to abolish the nonelected parliamentary seats of the country's powerful military, asking instead for the military to respect human rights.
While she called for "a civilian authority that must be above the military authority," she also said that a professional and effective military was needed for national unity. Several retired generals in attendance nodded their approval and applauded her remarks.
The corruption investigation of former president Suharto also came under scrutiny, just as the former strongman is in a hospital recovering from a mild stroke. Megawati insisted that Suharto would be investigated and brought to trial if any improprieties were found and stressed that Habibie might also be investigated under her government.
Although Megawati's party has won the most parliamentary seats, Indonesia's complex electoral system will require her to form coalitions to attain a majority and to ensure her the presidency. In particular, Megawati now must court several Islam-affiliated parties currently debating whether a woman can lead the nation.