For supporters of opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri, this should be the time for popping the champagne corks and planning to party.
Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle is the all-but-declared winner of June's parliamentary elections, coming in first among 48 parties with 34 percent of the vote. Her party left the former ruling party, Golkar, 12 percentage points behind in a distant second place. Megawati has emerged as the most popular choice to become Indonesia's next president, and she staked her claim in a well-received speech Thursday.
Golkar officials, meanwhile, have been scrambling to find coalition partners and floating unlikely scenarios that would keep the unpopular President B.J. Habibie in power.
But rather than savoring victory, Megawati's camp remains cautious, even anxious. During the surprisingly drawn-out tabulation of votes, disparate forces have had time to coalesce and forge deals with a single goal: blocking Megawati's path to the presidency.
Some, like Muslim clerics, oppose her because she is a woman in the world's most populous Muslim-majority country. Others are more Machiavellian--electoral losers who see a second chance at taking power if only Megawati can be stopped. The Jakarta elite is suspicious of her party's populist rhetoric. Some see the shadows of the country's long-dead Communist Party among her supporters. Others mostly see their own traditional power threatened by the newly galvanized masses.
Still others question her intellectual acumen, sneer at her halting English and even criticize her sometimes dowdy dress and matronly appearance.
"Can you imagine her at an APEC meeting, standing next to Bill Clinton?" sniffed one Jakarta intellectual, referring to the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting.
Together, these critics form a growing "Anybody But Mega" movement. Their vociferous, sometimes irrational, dislike of Megawati, and their fear of her broad support, have heightened concerns that the June 7 verdict at the ballot box could be reversed this fall, when 462 elected legislators and 238 appointed delegates gather in the parliament building to decide who will run Indonesia.
"The worry is there," said Wimar Witoelar, a political commentator and talk show host who supports Megawati. "There's an overlap between the 'Anybody But Mega' movement and the 'Habibie or Bust' movement."
Trying to explain the visceral dislike some members of the political elite feel toward Megawati, Witoelar said: "She's not in the same back room as the other politicians. She doesn't speak their language. . . . They can't drink beer with her and backslap with her."
The criticism of Megawati might be dismissed easily as the grumbling of losers. But under Indonesia's complex electoral system, those "losers" might actually be able to cobble together enough votes among the appointed members of the electoral college to block Megawati's presidential candidacy, or at least create a stalemate.
Against that backdrop, Megawati's speech on Thursday was seen as particularly important. Her supporters and other analysts had said it was crucial for her to stake her claim to the presidency early, to try to preempt moves against her. And in her 90-minute address, she did that, telling the audience that "as leader of the winning party, I have obtained the mandate from the people to form a new government."
She also criticized "the political elite," who she said were trying to "deny the mandate of the people" through "games" and "political intrigue."
The maneuvering began almost as soon as the first election returns showed Megawati's party taking a commanding lead. Some Islamic organizations, including the leadership of the Muslim-based United Development Party, which finished third, declared that only a Muslim man should lead Indonesia.
That idea appeared to gain currency, as even Megawati's nominal ally and most likely coalition partner, Abdurrahman Wahid, of the National Awakening Party, warned that many of the Islamic clerics and fundamentalists in his organization might bolt if he backed her presidential bid. Wahid, whose party finished fourth, has since come out in favor of Megawati, increasing the likelihood that she will be named president.
A counterattack began with various respected Muslim scholars declaring that nothing in Islamic law prohibited a woman from serving as president and that Megawati's party was not a threat to Islam. Megawati also has directly addressed the religion issue.
"If the people had any doubts, then the truth is out now with the election result," she said in an interview with an Indonesian newsmagazine. And she dismissed the gender issue as the work of politicians who "aim to discredit me."
Another anti-Megawati track began with the proposal that the presidency be made largely ceremonial, leaving a figurehead president essentially powerless while the government was run by the speaker of parliament.
The Anybody But Mega camp is also desperately searching for a "compromise candidate" to somehow break the supposed deadlock between Megawati and Habibie.
The armed forces chief, Gen. Wiranto, was an early favorite for the position, but most independent analysts dismiss his chances because of his close links to Suharto, the longtime autocratic president and former general who stepped down last year. Students and other forces for change would likely never accept another general as president.
The core problem, many analysts say, is that after four decades in power, Indonesia's elites are disinclined to accept defeat graciously. And under the country's convoluted system of selecting a president, which still gives great weight to appointed electoral college members and the armed forces, winners are not necessarily winners, and losers always have a second chance if they can put together the right coalition.