Thumbs up for vote of hope


Over 110 million Indonesians voted yesterday, with the principal hope of a new beginning for a country gripped by political and economic uncertainty.

DJUNAIDI and Julaiha met 17 years ago at a polling booth in South Jakarta to cast their votes during one of the general elections of the New Order regime.

It was love at first sight for the two, who were also bonded by their support for the Muslim-oriented United Development Party (PPP). They got married six months later.

Yesterday, the 43-year-old tradesman and his wife were at the same polling station to do exactly what they did two decades ago: Cast a ballot for the PPP.

“I am voting with a free conscience now,” said Ms Julaiha. “It was for Islam before and it is still for Islam now but without any fear of making that choice.”

More than 110 million Indonesians like them yesterday voted with the principal hope of a new beginning for a country riddled with political and economic uncertainty.

The early-morning showers did not dampen the enthusiasm as they crowded in polling stations all over the vast archipelago to choose one of 48 parties in the first election since Mr Suharto fell from power last May.

The polls opened first in the central and eastern regions before residents in Jakarta got their chance.

Tent-like structures housing at most four polling booths shrouded in white linen sprouted in all corners of the capital. It was family day for many as each station turned into a centre of human eddy, with crowds spilling onto road pavements. There was little troop presence except for armoured personnel carriers at strategic points in the city.

Voters formed long queues to await their turn to punch their choice on a white-and-pink ballot paper for national and district legislators respectively.

Everyone left with a purple imprint on one of his fingers to show he had voted.

Giving the thumbs up, 50-year-old ethnic Chinese businessman Winarto said he voted for the ruling Golkar party for continuity.

“I am not ashamed of that,” he said.

“Golkar has the infrastructure and ability to run this country. I don’t think any of the other parties is up to the job.

“I head a company and I can tell you that preaching morality is not the only ingredient for success.

“We all want change but it has to be done gradually and not radically like what some of the pro-reformasi parties want.”

Indeed, many of the conservative elite in rich suburban areas appeared to want a Golkar victory. But, elsewhere, it was mainly Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri’s Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle (PDI-Struggle).

Mr Milfred Handerson, 31, had always voted Golkar. This time, he chose to go for PDI-Struggle, the party he had always supported discreetly.

He explained: “My father is a government official and would always tell us that if we don’t vote Golkar, we won’t have any food.

“There is no restraint this time. And it feels so good to vote what your heart wants.”

President B. J. Habibie, who has pledged that the election will be the freest since 1955, was among the first to vote in Jakarta.

He arrived by minibus in heavy rain at the polling station 150 m from his house in the Patra Kuningan neighbourhood in South Jakarta.

The German-trained engineer and Suharto protege told reporters: “I have exercised my right and duty to choose the party which I think worthy of my choice.”

But he declined to name the party.

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