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An update on Indonesia's elections

Following April 9’s parliamentary polls, Indonesian political parties this week began positioning themselves for the all-important presidential elections in July.

With the exception of election day violence in the remote province of Papua, where a separatist movement has simmered for decades, parliamentary elections were largely successful and are being seen as yet another example of the country's strengthening democracy.

Official results from the parliamentary elections won't be available until next month, but they are unlikely to change much from the exit polls.

The Democratic Party, headed by incumbent president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, garnered more than 20 percent of the popular vote during last week’s election, more than doubling the party’s performance in 2004 but falling short of the numbers needed to run for reelection without having to form a potentially unstable coalition.

Two other perennial powerhouses — Golkar, the old Suharto machine, and the Democratic Party of Struggle, headed by former president Megawati Sukarnoputri — both fared poorly with about 15 percent of the vote. Sukarnoputri seems prepared to partner with ex-generals Prabowo Subianto and Wiranto, whose parties both received less than 10 percent of the vote.

That ticket, however, would be rife with baggage. Sukarnoputri lost to Yuhdoyono in 2004 and Subianto and Wiranto are widely believed to be behind student kidnappings in 1998 and mass killings during East Timor’s referendum on independence.

Yet the coalition appears to be the only major roadblock to Yudhoyono’s reelection, confirming speculation that the incumbent will be elected easily.

Yudhoyono, however, will still have to form a coalition himself and is said to be looking at partnering yet again with Golkar and possibly the Islamic-based party, PKS. Both would present problems for any future administration.

The president’s partnership with Golkar during his first term was widely seen to hamper his reformist agenda — most members of Golkar are leftovers from Suharto’s rule. PKS meanwhile has championed an anti-graft agenda that would appeal to the president. But it also supports Sharia-based legislation and was the major push behind a controversial anti-pornography bill passed last year. A partnership with PKS could mean more concessions for Indonesia’s minority conservative Muslim population.

The dance will play out in the coming weeks before official campaigning for the presidency begins in June.