SINGAPORE - Instead of promising a new beginning, as in the heady post-Suharto days of 1999, Indonesia's fourth general election appears to have consigned the country to five more years of messy coalition politics, uncertain policies and shaky governance.
With presidential pace-setter Joko "Jokowi" Widodo failing to ignite the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) and smaller parties doing better than expected, a new PDI-P-led government will need at least four partners to enjoy a comfortable majority in the 560-seat House of Representatives.
Mr Joko is still the hot favourite to win the presidency. Indeed, one recent poll gives him 55 per cent support, ahead of Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) leader Prabowo Subianto on 20 per cent and Golkar party chairman Aburizal Bakrie on 9 per cent.
But if he holds his current course, he will have to accommodate parties he had no intention of accommodating and make compromises he had no intention of making, while PDI-P leader Megawati Sukarnoputri peers, ever- present, over his shoulder.
Unlike outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, however, Mr Joko is not obsessed with consensus. As Jakarta governor, he listens patiently to all sides before he acts, relying on a vibrant social media for support when the going gets tough.
Insiders say Ms Megawati has given him the authority to choose a vice-president, one who will hopefully provide real backup on a wide range of duties and issues and help keep the lines of communication open to a notoriously rambunctious Parliament.
With registration day looming in mid-May, the choice of a running mate has narrowed to four or five candidates. But former vice-president Jusuf Kalla, 71, appears to have the inside running - and a mandate from some key Golkar figures to accept the post if it is offered.
Provisional results suggest PDI-P (114 seats) teaming with Golkar (90), National Awakening Party (47), National Mandate Party (43) and National Democrat Party (37) to form a possible new government, but in a two-step process that will be cemented only after the presidential election.
Buoyed by Gerindra's improved 12 per cent showing, party leader Prabowo may provide Mr Joko with a much sterner test than it appears now, particularly if he can draw his wildly popular, but novice opponent into a televised debate on national issues.
Secure in third place in the quick count behind a disappointing PDI-P (18-19 per cent) and a stationary Golkar (14 per cent), Gerindra will need the support of only two other parties to get over the threshold that will allow the retired general into the July 9 race.
Those may well be President Yudhoyono's Democrat Party, which predictably slumped from 20.8 per cent to 9.6 per cent, and the Justice and Prosperity (PKS), which did better than predicted, despite all of its own corruption baggage.
Ms Megawati has already made it clear she wants neither of those two parties in any ruling coalition, the former because of Dr Yudhoyono's perceived betrayal in the 2004 presidential election and the latter because of its syariah base.