July 10 (Bloomberg) -- Indonesia’s election commission began the task of tallying about 140 million votes to meet a two-week deadline to announce the winner of the country’s closest-ever presidential election after both candidates claimed victory.
The disputed outcome raised the prospect of short-term uncertainty for Asia’s fifth-largest economy and the world’s third-biggest democracy, after unofficial counts by most survey companies showed Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo, 53, secured more votes than Suharto-era general Prabowo Subianto, 62.
Both candidates in their victory speeches called on supporters to guard against attempts to manipulate the tally, while outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono urged supporters on both sides to remain calm following the vote.
“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.”
Before the election commission can release official results by July 22, it must tally the ballots of the forecast 75 percent of 190 million eligible voters who turned out. The results are hauled 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.
“We will do our best and be professional,” Ferry Kurnia, a commissioner at the General Elections Commission, or KPU, said yesterday after the quick count figures. The commission dismissed more than 200 organizers for not following procedures, he said before the election.
In a sign that Prabowo coalition unity may be fraying as the results are awaited, an official from the Golkar Party, which is in alliance with Prabowo’s Gerindra Party and has been in government for the past decade, indicated the party could switch sides.
Former Golkar chairman Jusuf Kalla, who is Widodo’s running mate, is one of the party’s best members, Zainal Bintang, a deputy chairman at Golkar’s advisory board, said today by phone.
“With a victory of Jokowi-JK already certain, Golkar as an institution should know itself, especially those who are backing Prabowo,” Bintang said. “We can’t be in opposition.”
Current chairman Aburizal Bakrie, who allied the party with Prabowo, should resign now, he said, with Golkar members talking about moving forward the date of the party’s next convention to October from 2015 to enable a leadership change.
Lalu Mara, a spokesman for Bakrie, said it was not up to Bintang to speak on his future.
“There’s a mechanism to decide that,” he said.
Golkar switching sides would give Widodo, known as Jokowi, 53 percent of parliamentary seats, which would push the rupiah to rally to 11,000 per dollar, Geoffrey Kendrick, head of currency and interest-rate strategy in Asia at Morgan Stanley, wrote in an e-mail. The rupiah gained 0.7 percent to 11,555 per dollar as of 1:22 p.m. in Jakarta, prices from local banks show.
Jokowi, who rose from being mayor of a city in central Java to governing Jakarta, had about a five percentage point lead, according to unofficial counts from two survey companies that declared him the winner. The tallies give him a buffer of about 8 million votes, based on Bloomberg calculations, for the closest result since direct presidential elections began a decade ago.
“This is the time for us to guard the vote counts in the polling stations so everything can go in a clean way and smooth way,” Jokowi told reporters yesterday. “I ask all Indonesian people to preserve the people’s will.”
Votes are tallied at booths and a sheet with the figures sent to the nearest village to be amalgamated with other results, then sent along several further stops -- including the district and provincial level -- before reaching the capital, said Paul Rowland, a Jakarta-based political analyst and former Indonesia country director for advocacy group the National Democratic Institute.
Some names registered as voters in the eastern Nusa Tenggara islands were found to be dead or were children, Vinsensius Bureni, a coordinator at non-governmental organization Bengkel APPEK, said by phone from West Timor.
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 yesterday. “Let’s close our ranks, our strength is large, our strength is the strength of the people of Indonesia.”
Indonesia’s newspapers praised the election for running smoothly and being violence free. The Jakarta Post and Investor Daily called it a “People’s Victory” in noting Jokowi’s lead, while The Jakarta Globe’s headline read “A Nation Awaits.”
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 will be contested raises the prospect of instability that may rattle the world’s fourth-most populous nation.
“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.
Past quick counts for both presidential and parliamentary elections have been accurate to within 1 percentage point, said Rowland.
Jokowi fared best in the eastern part of Indonesia such as Bali and Papua, as well as Jakarta, while Prabowo led in western areas including West Sumatra and West Java, according to the quick count by Saiful Mujani & Research Consulting.
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.
After the official results are released, challenges can be filed to the constitutional court to hear in August and rule by August 24.
There are nine judges on the constitutional court, serving terms of five years, according to its website. The chief judge is Hamdan Zoelva, a lecturer and previously a lawmaker, who replaced Akil Mochtar, who was found guilty of graft and money laundering and sentenced on June 30 to life in prison. Three judges are recommended to the president by the supreme court, three by the People’s Representative Council, and three are the president’s own picks.
Prabowo was once married to Suharto’s daughter, and is a product of the aristocracy that has governed Indonesia since independence in the 1940s. His supporters cast him as strong and capable while Jokowi’s team portrayed their candidate as free from vested interests. The election pitting an established elite against a new breed of politician comes as neighbor Thailand is under military rule after years of societal divide threatened to spill into protracted violence.
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,” said Steve Wilford, Asia-Pacific director of Control Risks. “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.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Neil Chatterjee in Jakarta at firstname.lastname@example.org; Untung Sumarwan in Jakarta at email@example.com; Brian Leonal in Singapore at firstname.lastname@example.org
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