President's party on course to consolidate power

The party of Indonesia's president won a resounding victory in parliamentary polls, handing him a stronger mandate to push a reformist agenda in the world's third largest democracy.

Unofficial counts from five polling agencies showed today that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Democratic Party would be the largest in the 560-seat lower house after collecting 20% of the popular vote. It ranked fifth in the last election in 2004.

That was a clear sign of widespread public approval for Mr Yudhoyono's performance in his first years, but he will still have to form a coalition to garner enough seats to contest July 8 presidential polls and build a parliamentary majority that can push through his policies.

With preliminary, official results not expected for days, Mr Yudhoyono made no comment about possible coalition partners, but analysts expect he will again join forces with the late dictator Suharto's party, Golkar, which took a beating at the ballot box, and any number of smaller Islamic parties.

Parties or coalitions need a fifth of the legislature - or 25% of the popular vote - to nominate a candidate for the presidential race.

The parliamentary election put Mr Yudhoyono on track for "a landslide" in the presidential polls, said researcher Sunny Tanuwidjaja at the Jakarta Centre for Strategic and International Studies. "This is an indication Yudhoyono is still very strong, very popular."

But while it gave him the political clout needed to seek a more ambitious agenda, it remains to be seen whether he would "dare to actually deliver the breakthroughs.... He has always been perceived as a slow and indecisive figure," he said.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, emerged from 32 years of dictatorship when General Suharto was swept from power in 1998, leading to reforms that freed the media, vastly improved the country's human rights record, and for the first time allowed citizens to vote for president.

But corruption is still endemic throughout government institutions and the courts, undermining its democratic transition. Critics say deeper reforms are still badly needed.

Voting went smoothly at more than half a million polling stations across 17,000 islands, but pre-election violence left five dead in the easternmost province of Papua in an apparent rebel attack.

There were also complaints about ballot paper mix-ups and incomplete registration lists that meant some people couldn't vote at all.

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