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Standoff grows over disputed Indonesian election

Presidential candidate Joko Widodo, left, and his wife. (Photo by Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA -- A standoff deepened on Wednesday evening in Jakarta with both contestants in a fiercely contested presidential election claiming the right to govern the archipelago of 17,000 islands and its 250 million people.

     The vote was Indonesia's third direct presidential poll since the end of authoritiarian rule in 1998, and pitted a relic of the old era -- the former general Prabowo Subianto -- against Joko Widodo, Jakarta governor and a relative neophyte who rose to prominence after 2005 on the back of a successful tenure as mayor of Solo, a city in east Java.

     Shortly after declaring victory, the pre-vote favorite Widodo, who goes by the nickname "Jokowi" told the Nikkei Asian Review as he left a meeting with former President Megawati that "Indonesia already decided, and this is a great day for all Indonesians."

     His car swamped by elated supporters, Widodo was driven to the central Jakarta square where the country's first president, Sukarno, declared independence in 1945. There, Widodo was introduced as "president-elect" before he told around 5,000 euphoric supporters: "We urge all Indonesians to preserve the purity of the people's aspirations and not try to challenge what the people are asking for."

     However, Prabowo not only refused to concede but said that he too had reason to claim victory. In a televised speech given shortly after Widodo's public address, Prabowo said he had spoken to the governors of several densely-populated provinces, who said early indications suggested that he had won clear majorities in their regions.

     "We, Prabowo-Hatta, have received the support and mandate from the people of Indonesia," he said, referring to his running mate and vice-presidential aspirant, Hatta Rajasa. Widodo's vice-presidential nominee is Jusuf Kalla, himself a former candidate for highest office.

     Official results are due on July 22, but as is the norm with Indonesian elections, samples of votes cast were taken soon after voting closed in an attempt to gauge the eventual result.

     The counts were undertaken by think tanks and polling organizations such as the Jakarta-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, which said the Jokowi-Kalla ticket had won 52% of the vote, with Prabowo-Hatta on 48%. Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting gave the Jokowi-Kalla team 53.72% compared with 46.26% for Prabowo-Hatta.

      Such sampling has proved accurate in the past, including those taken after voting in national legislative elections in April. However, the early counts on Tuesday were based on just 2,000 of nearly 480,000 polling stations, prompting some analysts to say they could not provide a comprehensive national picture

      Patricia Irene, a 22-year-old bank employee, voting Wednesday morning at the central Jakarta voting station where Widodo had cast his ballot a few minutes previously, said she had opted for him.

      "I vote for number 2 [the number allocated to Widodo on the ballot paper] as he knows how to manage the system for a better Indonesia" Irene said, citing Widodo's much-lauded tenure as Solo's mayor.

      Permata Sofia Nurhayati, 60,cast her ballot at the same polling station, but opted for Prabowo. Nurhayati, who said she was an "education activist," said she was disappointed with Widodo's tenure as mayor of Jakarta since 2012.

     "He did not show the efficiency we had heard about from before," she said.

     The winner will succeed Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, widely known as SBY, a former general whose second term in office will end later in 2014. SBY won a landslide victory in 2009, but his latter years in office were marred by vacillation, corruption scandals, and a slowing economy.

     Both Prabowo's perceived decisiveness and Widodo's vaunted management acumen were touted as viable alternative leadership models to SBY's hands-off approach to governing.

     As he faced the exit, however, SBY was asserting himself, tweeting at 8.37pm local time on Wednesday evening that he would meet with both claimants. SBY's Democrat Party, which was eviscerated in the April parliament vote, supported Prabowo's candidacy.

     Widodo had been criticized throughout the campaign for lacking Prabowo's decisiveness and, in some voters' eyes, the ex-special forces leader's clarity. Some found Widodo to have a greater sense of detail, however, a factor that appealed to Patricia Irene.

     "In the debates he always knows how to explain step by step for a better Indonesia," she said, referring to televised face-offs between the two candidates, and the vice-presidential nominees in recent weeks.


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