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Indonesian Vote Count Risks Contested Result: Southeast Asia

Indonesia population, voters

July 10 (Bloomberg) -- Both Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo and Suharto-era general Prabowo Subianto claimed victory in Indonesia’s presidential election, even as unofficial counts showed Widodo won the most votes yesterday in the world’s third-biggest democracy.

The campaign was the most polarizing since the fall of dictator Suharto in 1998, dividing the country between those looking for a more liberal democracy and those nostalgic for a leader who projects strength. The possibility that official results due in two weeks will be contested raises the prospect of instability that may rattle Asia’s fifth-largest economy.

“This is one of the biggest tests for Indonesia, a maturity test for the young democracy,” said Wellian Wiranto, an economist at Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. in Singapore. The potential for a court challenge “will act as a brake to the kind of positive reaction to a Jokowi win given the risk of dragging drama and also the non-negligible risk of political frustration boiling over.”

Widodo, known as Jokowi, had about a five percentage point lead, according to unofficial counts from two survey companies that declared him the winner. The tallies give Jokowi a buffer of about 8 million votes, based on Bloomberg calculations, for the closest result since direct presidential elections began a decade ago.

A victory for Jokowi, 53, would cap a rapid ascent for the man who in 2005, as a furniture dealer with no political experience, ran for mayor in his hometown of Solo in central Java. His middle class background and penchant for mingling with the people captured the imagination of voters nationwide, propelling him to governor of the capital in 2012.

‘Silver Spoon’

“If he wins the presidential election it means Indonesians, half of them below the age of 29, want a leader they can associate with, not part of the elite,” said Fauzi Ichsan, a finance adviser to Jokowi’s party. “They want a leader who seems approachable, part of them, has suffered like them. Therefore any of the so-called common people can become like him in the future. You don’t have to be part of the elite, you don’t have to be born with a silver spoon in your mouth.”

Prabowo, 62, who is the son of a former Cabinet minister and was once married to Suharto’s daughter, is a product of the aristocracy that has governed Indonesia since independence from the Dutch in the 1940s. During his father-in-law’s rule he ascended through the army, though after Suharto was toppled he was dismissed amid accusations of human rights violations related to the detention of pro-democracy activists.

Rupiah, Bonds

Prabowo’s supporters cast him as strong and capable, an image he played off during the campaign with military-themed events, while Jokowi’s supporters portrayed their candidate as free from vested interests and able to deliver change. Indonesia’s election pitting an established elite against a new breed of politician comes as neighbor Thailand remains under military rule after years of societal divide have threatened to spill into protracted violence.

Rupiah forwards yesterday jumped the most since February and dollar bonds advanced after the unofficial results indicated a Widodo victory. The Jakarta stock exchange was closed on election day.

“The markets are holding to the view that Jokowi will be the eventual winner,” said Khoon Goh, a currency strategist at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. in Singapore. “Prabowo’s challenge is more political posturing. He doesn’t want to concede at this stage, which is fair enough given the official result isn’t due until later this month.”

White House

In Washington, the White House welcomed the completion of the election. “The high voter turnout, spirited campaign, and strong participation by Indonesia’s public, civil society, and media underscore the strength and dynamism of Indonesia’s maturing democracy,” it said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.

Before the election commission can release official results by July 22, it must tally the ballots of the estimated 75 percent of 190 million eligible voters who turned out. The results are hauled, sometimes by boat, horseback and on foot, from polling stations on 900 inhabited islands in the Southeast Asian archipelago, which would stretch from New York to Alaska, to regional centers. While counting at local booths is done publicly -- those figures form the basis of the quick counts -- adding the results up is done in secret.

“This is the first close election in Indonesia -- this is going to be a test of the system,” said Andrew Thornley, Jakarta-based program director for elections at non-profit development organization The Asia Foundation. “Once ballot boxes go up the chain, there is a risk of fraud.”

‘New Direction’

Both candidates in their victory speeches called on supporters to guard against attempts to manipulate the count. Outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono urged supporters on both sides to remain calm following the vote.

“Today is the day a new direction is decided,” Jokowi told supporters in Jakarta. “We want a better Indonesia, a healthier Indonesia, a wealthier one,” he said. “This day, new history is made.”

Prabowo said quick counts done by survey companies he used for guidance showed him in the lead, and he would now wait for the official results.

“Let’s stay alert,” he said in a televised appearance as his supporters, dressed in white, whooped and cheered. “Let’s close our ranks, our strength is large, our strength is the strength of the people of Indonesia.”

‘Ongoing Process’

Tantowi Yahya, a spokesman for the Prabowo campaign, said the Jokowi camp’s declaration of victory was premature. “We must respect the ongoing process that will be guided by the election committee,” he said. He said he was confident that official results would show a Prabowo win.

Prabowo was potentially setting himself up for “a rather embarrassing retraction,” said Steve Wilford, Asia-Pacific director of Control Risks. “By almost all accounts he is behind in this poll. So it would seem that he has the intent to to be disruptive.”

Cheering Jokowi supporters waving banners held celebrations in several parts of the capital, singing, shooting off fireworks and blowing trumpets around a major traffic circle in the center of the city. “I feel like Jokowi is the president already,” said Catelya Raesita, 23. “He isn’t only selling dreams, but he will actually get down and work.”

Some Jokowi supporters took to social media to mock Prabowo’s victory claim, with the post “Brazil Won” trending on Twitter, a reference to Germany’s World Cup 7-1 defeat of Brazil on the morning of the election.

Victory Margin

The success of any court challenge would likely depend on the margin of victory in the official results, said Susi Dwi Harjanti, an associate professor of constitutional law at Padjadjaran University in Bandung, West Java.

“If the constitutional court says the margin is too big and it will not influence the results, and from the evidence the case is weak, they will not accept the case,” she said.

Both candidates campaigned on populist platforms, promising to spark growth, reduce poverty, boost education, build infrastructure and help farmers. Jokowi has said he’ll improve regulations to attract investment and cut red tape. Prabowo wants to raise more money from capital markets and tax, as well as spur economic expansion by increasing borrowing.

‘Meeting Expectations’

Whoever wins will face challenges both at home and abroad. They will need to provide jobs and education to a growing population at a time when demand for its commodities such as coal and palm oil has slowed. They will also face increasingly complicated regional relations, including territorial disputes with China that are simmering on its doorstep in the South China Sea.

“Jokowi’s challenge will be meeting expectations,” Wilford said. “You are in a realm of very, very powerful interest groups, you’re in the realm of the pressures from a legislature that will actually be by headcount more aligned with Prabowo.”

Alongside his victory declaration, Jokowi offered to work with Prabowo going forward.

“We are brothers,” he told supporters. “God willing, we will sit together to discuss Indonesia’s future.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Chris Blake in Bangkok at; Neil Chatterjee in Jakarta at; Berni Moestafa in Jakarta at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at Dick Schumacher

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