JAKARTA: Both sides have claimed victory in Indonesia’s tightest and most divisive presidential election since the end of authoritarian rule, as unofficial tallies showed Jakarta governor Joko Widodo leading over ex-general Prabowo Subianto.
The standoff yesterday in the hotly contested race to lead the world’s third-biggest democracy prompted President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to call for restraint from both sides until official results are announced in two weeks’ time.
The popularity of Widodo – known as “Jokowi” and the first serious presidential contender without roots in the the era of dictator Suharto – was clear earlier in the day, when hundreds of supporters mobbed him as he voted in central Jakarta.
As a series of unofficial tallies, which are considered reliable, started to show him with a lead of four to five percentage points, a smiling Widodo declared victory flanked by members of his party, extending his thanks to “all the Indonesian people”.
But shortly afterwards Prabowo, who has admitted ordering the abduction of democracy activists before the Suharto’s downfall in 1998 and was formerly married to one of the strongman’s daughters, also claimed victory.
The 62-year-old, who has pushed a strongman image on the campaign trail to win votes, said survey institutes used by his campaign team showed that he and running mate Hatta Rajasa “have received the support and mandate from the people of Indonesia”.
Speaking earlier in the day, he had pledged to “respect the people’s decision”.
However he added: “It must be really their decision and not an engineered one. If it’s engineered, we must take clear action.”
A spokesman for Widodo’s campaign, Anies Baswedan, called on Prabowo and his running mate to behave like “statesmen”, adding that “all credible survey institutes declared our victory”.
The close race has sparked fears of unrest, and Susilo urged both sides to “restrain themselves and not organise street rallies to celebrate until the announcement by the (election commission)”.
The commission is not expected to announce the official results until July 22, due to the complexity of holding elections across the archipelago of more than 17,000 islands that spans three time zones.
But the unofficial tallies that Widodo’s party relied on, known as “quick counts”, are considered reliable and have accurately predicted the winner of Indonesia’s two previous presidential elections since Suharto’s downfall.
Tobias Basuki, an analyst from the Jakarta-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, described the situation as “unprecedented”, adding: “We’ve never seen such polarisation in Indonesia.”
CSIS carried out an official tally, which was considered reliable. It showed Widodo with a lead of 51.9% to Prabowo’s 48.1%, largely in line with other credible polls.
A former furniture exporter from a humble background, Widodo is seen as likely to usher in a new style of leadership and consolidate democracy should he win the election.
Prabowo in contrast has faced criticism that he may shift Indonesia back towards authoritarian rule. In one recent talk, he reportedly said that a Western-style political system, including direct elections, “doesn’t suit” Indonesia.
Some 190 million voters were eligible to cast ballots in the election.
Polling went smoothly across the country, from eastern Papua to the main island of Java and jungle-clad Sumatra in the west, and no major disruptions were reported.
Widodo, 53, was ahead by a long way in the polls for months leading up to the election, but his lead shrank during the campaign as he was attacked by a string of smears.
The most damaging was a claim that he is an
ethnic Chinese Christian and not a Muslim, a serious charge in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country. He vehemently denied the claim.
Whoever eventually takes over from Suslio, who steps down in October after a decade of stable but often indecisive rule, faces a delicate transition.
Growth is slowing in South-East Asia’s top economy, corruption is rampant, millions remain mired in poverty, and fears are mounting that Islamist radicals returning from Middle East conflicts could revive militant networks.
Widodo shot to national prominence when he was elected Jakarta governor in 2012, and quickly won legions of fans with his common touch and efforts to solve the capital’s myriad problems.
He would make regular tours of the metropolis’s sprawling slums in casual clothes and was often spotted at heavy metal concerts.
Prabowo, now a wealthy businessman, has played up his military background on the campaign trail, at a time when nostalgia is growing in some quarters for a return to the strong rule of the Suharto years. — AFP