Susilo maintains lead

JAKARTA: President Megawati Sukarnoputri came in second in Indonesia's presidential vote and will run against her former security minister in a September runoff, according to poll results yesterday.  

Megawati received 26% in Monday's election, ahead of Wiranto, a former military chief who was in third place with 23%, according to the poll by the Washington-based National Democratic Institute. 

If the results prove correct, Megawati will face Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who won 33%, in a Sept 20 runoff.  

Almost a quarter of the votes, some 30.2 million, have been officially tallied in the world's third largest democracy. 

“I am confident I can win (the first round),” Susilo told reporters. 

“I am ready to go to the second round, whoever my competitor will be, because for me both Pak (honorific) Wiranto and Ibu Megawati have his or her own strengths and weaknesses. 

“I have to conduct a more effective campaign, communicate better with camps which did not make the second round,” he said. 

Asked about a possible coalition, Susilo replied: “In politics anything is possible but of course I have to develop my strategy to counter unnecessary tactics by my competitor.” 

He did not elaborate but has complained in the past of smear tactics by unspecified rivals – SMS messages which falsely allege he is a Christian. 

Though the first round of voting was largely peaceful, some observers fear that tension could mount in the weeks ahead of the runoff.  

Megawati and Wiranto said they would not contest results of the vote despite some confusion over invalid ballots. 

Hank Valentino, a senior adviser with the International Foundation for Election Systems, cautioned that votes still to be tallied from outlying areas would tend to go to Wiranto rather than Megawati. 

“For us, second place is too close too call,” he said. 

Fahmi Idris, a deputy chairman of Wiranto's party Golkar, said: “We hope that rural votes can help Wiranto's position in second place. The vote counting process is not yet finished.” 

However Rustam Ibrahim, an adviser to LP3ES, said Megawati had a better chance than Wiranto of reaching the second round on Sept 20. 

At the second-round stage, said Valentino, “it starts all over. 

“SBY (Susilo) may have led in the first round but this is not necessarily an indication he will walk away with the second round. With just two candidates, various supporters begin to solidify their positions.” 

Both candidates, Valentino said “will be starting from scratch and either could win.” 

Gunawan Hidayat, of the Voters' Education Network for the People, agreed the second-round scenario would be different. 

“One of the main factors will be information,” Hidayat said.  

“Information or disinformation is one main factor that can tip the balance.” 

There was also the matter of election officials scrambling to recount millions of ballots initially deemed invalid because the voters punched two holes, not one, in them. 

The General Election Commission, or KPU, got wind of the problem early Monday and changed its rules to allow the invalid ballots as long as the second hole was in a blank part of the voting paper. 

The problem stems from voters failing to unfold the rectangular ballot and, instead, punching a hole that went through to the other side. 

Markets cheered the vote. Jakarta's main share index closed up more than 3% and the rupiah rose to an eight-week high before slipping back a bit below 9,000 to the US dollar. 

Analyst Salim Said predicted the second round would be a “wild affair'' because intense coalition-building was likely to begin in the run-up to the September vote. – Agencies  

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