JAKARTA - Jakarta governor Joko Widodo is expected to be declared the winner of Indonesia’s disputed presidential election this week but his rival, ex-general Prabowo Subianto, is set to mount a legal challenge that could prolong the political deadlock.
Both candidates claimed victory in the July 9 poll after a bitterly fought campaign in the world’s third-biggest democracy, but reliable pollsters predict Widodo will win by several points when the lengthy vote-counting process is completed.
The election was the tightest and most divisive in Indonesia since the downfall of dictator Suharto in 1998, and has emerged as the biggest test yet for the young democracy. “We’ve had a very polarised election, one which is very close, which is something that we have not really had before,” said veteran Indonesia analyst Kevin Evans.
Known by his nickname Jokowi, the Jakarta governor is the first serious presidential contender in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation without links to the autocratic past, and is from a new breed of up and coming politicians.
In contrast, Prabowo was the head of the army’s special forces in the Suharto era, has been dogged by allegations of human rights abuses and used to be married to one of the dictator’s daughters.
The results will be announced on Tuesday after some 130 million ballots are counted by hand across the archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, that stretches from mountainous Papua in the east to jungle-clad Sumatra in the west.
Tensions have escalated dramatically in the past two weeks as each side accused the other of seeking to rig the outcome, and police will be out in force around the country when the final results are released.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has urged the candidates to keep supporters off the streets amid fears of unrest, 16 years after thousands were killed when violence swept the country as three decades of authoritarian rule came to a chaotic end.
Investors in Southeast Asia’s top economy are hoping that Widodo, seen as a clean leader in one of the world’s most corrupt countries and likely to enact much-needed reforms, emerges the winner.
Observers say Prabowo could only be declared the winner if his side engaged in widespread vote-tampering as ballots are counted - but the ex-general insists he is in the lead and that it is Widodo’s side that is seeking to rig the outcome.
On Sunday Prabowo’s team repeated allegations of massive fraud in the count and demanded that the announcement of the results be delayed until the claims are investigated.
“The legitimacy of this process, in my opinion, is very, very questionable,” the ex-general said.
But the election commission rejected the request, with commission member Arief Budiman cited in local media saying the results would be announced as planned.
The election campaign was the dirtiest in Indonesia’s short democratic history, and saw Widodo’s once-huge lead dwindle to single digits after a flood of negative attacks.
However on election day, pollsters with a track record of accurately predicting Indonesian election outcomes gave Widodo a lead of between two and seven percentage points.
Several less well-known survey institutes called a win for Prabowo but doubts have been raised about their results. Two of them were thrown out of the pollsters’ industry body last week for refusing to undergo an audit.
Even if Widodo is declared the winner, the fight may not be over straight away as Prabowo will challenge the results in the Constitutional Court, claiming widespread vote-rigging, a spokesman for his campaign confirmed Sunday.
The court has until late August to issue a ruling.
There are concerns about the institution’s impartiality after its former chief justice was jailed for life last month for corruption, although analysts believe the court will be at pains to appear clean following the scandal.
Widodo won legions of fans with his down-to-earth approach as Jakarta governor, and was known for making impromptu tours of the capital’s teeming slums in casual clothes.
If elected, the 53-year-old is seen as likely to usher in a new style of leadership and consolidate democracy.
Prabowo, 62, won support by playing up his military background in a country where there is a yearning for a strong leader as disillusionment mounts over Indonesia’s chaotic democracy.
Whoever wins will be the second directly-elected president after Yudhoyono, who steps down in October following a decade in power.