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Habibie Declares Indonesian Elections Results Legitimate

By Keith B. Richburg
THE WASHINGTON POST -- JAKARTA

Indonesian President B. J. Habibie conceded Tuesday that June’s parliamentary elections left him with “less mandate” to lead the country than his rival, Megawati Sukarnoputri, and said he would have “no problem” stepping down if a national assembly chooses her to replace him as president.

But in an interview, Habibie also made clear he does not consider the contest over until the electors meet later this year. He cited other countries, notably Australia, where the party that won the most votes was unable to form a government and is now in opposition.

“I have less mandate,” he said. “I have indeed less. But it doesn’t mean I will be compared with those who have only 6 percent,” and relative to them, “I have more.”

Habibie made his comments shortly after he unilaterally declared the results of the election valid, bypassing a stalemated elections commission.

Those results show Megawati’s party first, with 34 percent of the vote, and Habibie’s Golkar party next with 22 percent. “I have taken the initiative to declare the election result as valid,” Habibie said.

Although Megawati has claimed a mandate to govern and is considered in the strongest position to be chosen as president, Habibie’s party hopes to form a coalition with smaller, like-minded Islamic parties, regional representatives and the military.

“The president will be chosen by the 700 members of the people’s assembly, and it must be more than 50 percent,” Habibie said. “That’s the beauty of democracy.”

Habibie declined to criticize Megawati or comment on her capacity to govern. “I don’t know about her performance,” he said. “I don’t know about her capability.” But he distanced himself from some Muslim clerics, saying her sex should not bar her from the presidency.

Habibie also said he does not consider the June election results a mandate for change. He noted that the three parties that did the best -- Megawati’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), Golkar and the Islamic-based United Development Party (PPP) -- are established parties. Of the 48 parties that contested the election, six accounted for more than 90 percent of the votes.

He said that in May 1998, Indonesia was teetering on the brink of a bloody revolution that he headed off. “I have prevented a revolution in my country,” Habibie said.