While the top news in the West on Thursday continued to center on the Balkan crisis and the latest development of a Serbian troop withdrawal from Kosova, attention, especially in Asia, focused on the painfully slow vote counting process in Indonesia. Reports varied as to the actual number of votes tallied thus far, but speculations as to the outcome as well as the reasons for the slow count continue to rise as the vote count is yet to provide a clear enough indication to calm the wildest of predictions and fears.
Thursday's internet edition of the South China Morning Post reported that only 5 percent of the votes have so far been counted. The Post quoted Wednesday's press conference by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter (on hand to observe the elections) who said that the slow count is due mostly to technical difficulties and not political maneuverings. The Post also noted that all political parties have criticized the slow count of Monday's polls and that this indicates that no one party is benefiting from a delay that realistically provides increased opportunities for fraud. Carter was cited as saying that the difficulties stem from the large number of uneducated and unprepared vote counters.
Malaysia's The Star Online headlined the vote count in its domestic news, but also carried a front page report saying that only 3 percent of a total vote of over 100 million has been counted so far. The front page article noted that concern is mounting over the slow pace and that all parties are conducting their own separate vote counts in addition to the official one. According to the Star, an official release shows Megawati's PDI-Perjuanganan (PDIP) as the clear front runner with 38 percent of the vote, followed by Abdurrahman Wahid's National Awakening Party (PKB) with 23 percent and B.J. Habibie's Golkar Party trailing with only 15 percent of the vote. But the Malaysian daily said that an unofficial Golkar Party count claimed on Tuesday night that it had counted 7 million votes that indicated the party had won 25 percent of the vote. In response to allegations of vote rigging, the Star report quoted an election official as saying that the vote is "slow but accurate."
The International Herald Tribune carried on its front page a New York Times report that itself was buried in the Times. Although both online publications focused largely on the developments in the Balkans, the report from the Times provided some analysis of the dragging election count. The story also covered Carter's attempts at reassurance, but noted that Carter warned election officials Wednesday to increase their vigilance as the chances to influence the elections increase the longer the count takes. The report quoted one election official who said that suspicions are increasing because nobody actually knows how many people voted in the first place and many fear this could lead to as much as a 10 million vote discrepancy. The story also said that the ruling Golkar party draws most of its strength from rural areas were vote manipulation is easier.
Singapore's Straits Times Interactive headlined a report on the elections that did not deal with the concern over the slow count, save for brief mention in the last paragraph. It noted that 20 million of 115 million votes have been counted. Saying that the electoral system is skewed in Golkar's favor, the report predicted that the Golkar party would do much better than expected in pre-election polls. One Golkar official was quoted as saying "Golkar will get what it wants ...a Habibie presidency." But a Straits Times editorial said that even if the elections prove fair, the slow count could undermine future stability if opposition parties feel cheated. According to the article, Abdurrahman Wahid has said that he will set up an alternative government if there is clear evidence of vote rigging.
Zakariya Wright is a staff writer at iviews.com