- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The apparent landslide victory of a former general in Indonesia’s first direct presidential election yesterday raised hopes among U.S. officials that he would step up Jakarta’s fight against terrorism and do away with the hands-off style of the incumbent, Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Even as American diplomats noted that Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Mrs. Megawati’s one-time security minister, has a limited track record, they expressed hope that he will end the Indonesian government’s clumsiness and corruption that have frustrated Washington for years.

“Megawati has a passive approach to leadership,” a senior diplomat said in an interview in Jakarta during the run-up to yesterday’s runoff election.

“She expects her ministers to go out and take action and report to her what they have done,” he said. “They want to take action, but they need the political cover of the president. So they are waiting to be told what to do, and she is waiting to hear what they have done — and nothing happens.”

With nearly half of the estimated 122 million votes counted early today, the General Election Commission said Mr. Yudhoyono had 60 percent of the votes. Mrs. Megawati had 40 percent.

A coalition of independent survey groups projected that Mr. Yudhoyono, 55, would win 61.2 percent of the votes, with Mrs. Megawati, 57, getting 38.8 percent. That forecast was based on samples taken from polling places throughout the country.

Approximately 151 million Indonesians were eligible to vote. Turnout was estimated at 80 percent.

The runoff followed the election’s first round in July, when Mr. Yudhoyono received the majority of the votes but failed to secure more than half, as required by the constitution.

Mrs. Megawati came in second, trailed by former Gen. Wiranto, who uses only one name. He has been accused of war crimes for his role in mass killings during East Timor’s struggle for independence in 1999.

The United States yesterday praised Indonesia, the nation with the largest Muslim population in the world, for conducting a peaceful and successful election only six years after embracing democracy.

“What we have seen is that these elections have set a strong example for the region and emerging democracies everywhere,” State Department spokesman Adam Ereli told reporters. “We are a close friend and partner of Indonesia, and we, therefore, strongly support their democratic process.”

He refrained from congratulating Mr. Yudhoyono until the official results are announced on Oct. 5.

Mr. Yudhoyono himself did not declare victory, despite the projections in his favor.

“It is time for reconciliation,” he said. “I acknowledged during this competition that there is distance between the supporters of Megawati and myself. I expect we have to be more united in the near future to face the national challenge of building a better Indonesia.”

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