Will Indonesia's Generals Smile on Megawati?

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Indonesia's political system adds a whole new meaning to the words "general election." On Friday, after around 20 percent of 113 million ballots had been counted in the country's first free elections in more than 40 years, opposition icon Megawati Sukarnoputri was projected to claim the biggest share of the vote –- around 35 percent. But with the military-backed ruling party Golkar claiming a solid 20 percent and two smaller opposition parties each scoring close to that, the election may yet be up to the generals to adjudicate. The reason is that Indonesia’s president is to be elected by an assembly in which 34 percent of the seats are reserved for appointees of the military and the government, which together with Golkar’s 20 percent and the endorsement of one or two smaller parties would allow them to reappoint President B. J. Habibie.

That would almost certainly reignite the street protests that overthrew former President Suharto last year and usher in a period of renewed turmoil. On the other hand, the generals could opt for making a deal with Megawati, allowing her to take power, but within parameters defined by the military. Megawati’s father, President Sukarno, was overthrown in a military coup in 1965, which ushered in Suharto’s 33-year tenure. "The situation right now is unpredictable because it’s unclear what the military wants," says TIME correspondent William Dowell. "There are likely to be divisions in the military, with some favoring making a deal with Megawati and others firmly opposed." But as in the ouster of Suharto, mass protests may yet play a decisive role. "The military’s preference is always to avoid violence and instability," says Dowell, "and that may persuade them to try and reach an understanding with Megawati." Indonesians may have voted in their first democratic election since 1955, but the result will still likely be determined in the backrooms.