Ruling party routs all challengers in election

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesia’s ruling Golkar party routed all challengers in tightly controlled elections, initial returns showed Thursday. The victory followed a monthlong campaign wracked by violence that has left more than 100 people dead.
If Golkar’s lead for the largely ceremonial parliament holds, the party of President Suharto and the military will easily win its sixth straight victory since 1971 in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation.
Unrest appears to be rising, however. Deadly riots rocked many parts of the country during the campaign. In the deadliest incident, 133 people were killed last Friday when rioters set fire to a shopping mall in Banjarmasin on the island of Borneo, 560 miles northeast of Jakarta.
And as many as 22 people were reported killed in rebel attacks in the disputed territory of East Timor. A rebel spokesman reported numerous arrests on election day in the former Portuguese colony in what residents said was the worst violence there in two years.
Elsewhere, about 3,000 voters who accused local officials of rigging the vote threw stones at government buildings and damaged cars Thursday in Sampang, a town 400 miles east of Jakarta.
Analysts fear chronic violence could develop unless the government does more to narrow the gap between rich and poor, eliminate corruption and allow some reforms in a political system that tolerates little dissent, especially in East Timor, invaded by Indonesia in 1975.
“Golkar will win. But even so the government will have to consider greater democratic reform,” said Arbi Sanit, a professor in political studies at the state-owned University of Indonesia.
Official results are not expected for at least a week but with 6.5 percent of the vote counted, Interior Minister Yogie Memet, the chief election official, said Golkar had 7.12 million votes out of 8.18 million tabulated Thursday.
The two other parties allowed by the government to contest the ballot had just a fraction of that: the Muslim-oriented United Development Party with 893,000 votes, the Indonesian Democratic Party 166,000.
Several government critics were charged with subversion or barred from running — including pro-democracy leader Megawati Sukarnoputri — in balloting for 425 seats in parliament. The other 75 seats are reserved for the military.
“The electoral system is rigged against the opposition, legally, structurally and in day-to-day practice,” said Sidney Jones of the New York-based group Human Rights Watch Asia.
Real power in Indonesia is vested in the president and his Cabinet.
The Golkar victory makes it all but certain that the new legislature and 500 other government appointees will elect Suharto, 75, to a seventh five-year presidential term next year.
“The president was happy,” said Memet.
Golkar’s apparent victory came despite threats that some voters would boycott the election to protest restrictions on political life.
Megawati, dismissed last year as leader of the Indonesian Democratic Party, earlier denounced the election as unfair.
She refused to vote but stopped short of telling her supporters to do the same, advising them instead to “follow their consciences on polling day.”
Voting is not compulsory in Indonesia, but inciting people to abstain is a crime.
Suharto cast his ballot in Jakarta soon after the polls opened. Four of his six children, all of whom voted with him, were candidates and are expected to win office.
About 130,000 police and soldiers were deployed to maintain order at polling stations across this nation of 13,667 islands, which extends 3,000 miles along the equator.
Nearly 300 people were killed during the campaign, including gangs from rival parties that clashed and victims of auto accidents during chaotic street parades.
Security was particularly tight Thursday in East Timor, a day after rebels fighting for independence staged attacks in four towns.
There were conflicting accounts of the death toll. Roman Catholic Church sources and witnesses said as many as 16 soldiers, four rebels and two civilians were killed. Police said the toll was 14 dead and that no soldiers were among those killed.