In Indonesia, Election Winner Could be a Loser

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Indonesia is famous for its shadow puppetry, and it’s an art form in which the country’s politicians could be said to excel. A day after the final results from the first democratic elections in three decades were due, only half the votes had been counted -- but it’s already abundantly clear that the country’s next president will not be chosen by the voters. Frontrunner Megawati Sukarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle enjoys a solid lead with 36 percent of the vote, but the ruling Golkar party is in second place with 18 percent -- and given a complex electoral system and the strong showing of two opposition Islamic parties who appear unwilling to back a woman for the top job, the former dictator Suharto’s handpicked successor, President B. J. Habibie, could still be reelected. "It’s hard to pick a winner because the next president will be chosen in backroom negotiations between the parties and other power centers," says TIME correspondent William Dowell. "What is clear, though, is that it will be impossible to govern Indonesia without an agreement that accommodates the views of widely different parties."

The student protestors who brought down Suharto won’t be happy if Megawati is denied -- and they were out on the streets of Jakarta Tuesday to underline the point. But they’re not the only show in town. Indonesia’s military, which ordered Suharto to step down to end last year’s social unrest, has made clear that it won’t stand for more political turmoil. "If each political party continues to be headstrong in maintaining its own interests, then there will always be political unrest," armed forces commander General Wiranto told reporters Tuesday. "The solution would be everyone’s willingness to make sacrifices for... the nation and country." The military hasn’t yet indicated which candidate it would prefer to see the politicians accept by way of compromise. But it wouldn’t come as a total surprise if they opted for one who didn’t actually run in the election -- General Wiranto himself.