updated 10/5/2004 12:13:10 AM ET 2004-10-05T04:13:10

Outgoing President Megawati Sukarnoputri tearfully conceded defeat Tuesday in last month’s elections, clearing the way for the winner to begin forming a new government.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had been waiting for Megawati to concede before claiming victory, respecting the decorum of Indonesia’s fledgling democracy, despite his landslide victory in the Sept. 20 polls.

The U.S.-educated retired army general canceled plans for an acceptance speech on Monday after the results were official released, as Megawati remained holed up in her residence.

But Megawati acknowledged her defeat Tuesday in a typically indirect speech to thousands of soldiers at a parade ground in the capital.

“Whoever has been chosen, we must graciously accept it, because the victory is a victory for all of us,” she said to applause from those present, including Yudhoyono. Her voice broke up when spoke, and she sobbed.

“We have succeeded in concluding a national task ... for the first time in the history of the Indonesian republic we have chosen a president and vice president directly in an orderly and safe manner.”

Yudhoyono will be inaugurated on Oct. 20, and markets and regional governments will now be anxious to see how he intends to lead the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

“Our big theme will be reconciliation and working together within democracy,” he said in his first comments to reporters Monday after being declared the winner.

The election was the first in which Indonesia’s 210 million people voted for their president directly. The ballot was praised as a key step in the country’s transition to democracy after the downfall of ex-dictator Suharto in 1998.

Yudhoyono will be Indonesia’s sixth president, and the fourth since Suharto. The scale of Yudhoyono’s victory has been obvious since election night.

Yudhoyono, who attended officer training college in the United States, won 60.62 percent of the vote compared Megawati’s 39.38 percent in the Sept. 20 election, official results showed. A total of 115 million people voted.

Media reports Tuesday quoted a member of Megawati’s team as saying it had identified balloting irregularities, which it may use as the basis for an appeal to the country’s Constitutional Court.

Arif Wibowo acknowledged that the alleged irregularities in the polls, which were declared fair by local and international monitors, did not involve enough votes to influence the final result.

“Even though the votes that we are questioning are not significant, whatever happens they represent people’s voice and cannot be disregarded,” the Kompas newspaper quoted Wibowo as saying.

During the campaign, Yudhoyono presented few distinct policies. But voters hungry for change were impressed by his grasp of the issues and his honest image.

Megawati, the daughter of founding President Sukarno, had been seen as an icon of the reform movement during Suharto’s 32-year dictatorship and was adored by the country’s legions of poor. But public perception soured, with critics accusing her of failing to tackle rampant graft and of being aloof and uncaring.

Analysts say Yudhoyono must quickly take action in solving Indonesia’s many problems — including several separatist insurgencies, a stagnant economy and terror threats — or risk losing supporters.

Yudhoyono led the country’s anti-terrorist effort as Megawati’s security minister, and Western governments hope he will take a tougher stand against the al-Qaida linked Jemaah Islamiyah network, blamed for a series of attacks including the Oct. 12, 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people.

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