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Indonesia Swears In New Style Parliament - 2004-10-01

Indonesia's outgoing president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, has presided over the swearing-in of a new parliament. Some analysts say the new house will usher in a new era of democracy for Indonesia, but others are predicting legislative gridlock as Mrs. Megawati's successor grapples with a parliament his party does not control. Four hundred of the 550 legislators sworn in Friday are first-term members, and some observers are saying the new parliament, which will sit for five years, marks the final chapter in the era of the disgraced former president, Suharto.

The two parties that controlled the outgoing house - Golkar, which Mr. Suharto used to ensure his three-decade grip on power, and Mrs. Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, which contained many allies-turned-opponents of Mr. Suharto - now control less than 50 percent of the members between them.

There are a raft of new parties, including the Democrat Party of the incoming president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and the Islamist Justice and Prosperity Party. For the first time since independence almost 60 years ago, the army has no guaranteed seats.

With his own Democrat Party also too small to control parliament, some observers foresee problems for Mr. Yudhoyono, who is known by his initials S.B.Y. But Landry Subianto of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta says it is possible parliament will be so divided it will be unable to stand up to the new president.

"In the beginning, actually I was so sure that S.B.Y. would have a bit of trouble with the parliament, but I think in the past few days, looking at how disorganized the current parliamentarians are now and also how S.B.Y. is gaining more and more support from the wider public, in my view I think he will not have as difficult situation as we ever predicted," he said.

The formal results of last month's presidential elections will be announced next week. Although Mr. Yudhoyono has an unassailable lead in the vote count, Mrs. Megawati has not yet conceded defeat.

Mr. Yudhoyono was not in parliament for the swearing in Friday. An aide said he has no business there until his victory is formally confirmed.

The new legislative and executive branches will have a broad range of pressing problems to address when the session gets under way: terrorism, endemic corruption, a stagnant economy, and huge government overspending on fuel subsidies. All of these demand almost immediate attention.

Indications are that Mr. Yudhoyono will end up with about 60-percent of the presidential vote, giving him a powerful direct mandate, but it remains to be seen if his minority position in parliament will allow him to deliver on the hopes of the electorate.