JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — After Indonesia’s hotly contested presidential election ended with both sides declaring victory, front-running candidate Joko Widodo called on his supporters to refrain from celebrating out of fear that it could incite violence by his rival’s supporters while the nation waits for official results.
According to the three most reputable quick-count surveys, soft-spoken Jakarta Gov. Widodo won the election in Southeast Asia’s largest economy with 52 percent of the vote, but his Suharto-era opponent, Prabowo Subianto, said other data indicated he had won Wednesday’s race. Widodo is the first candidate in an Indonesian direct presidential election with no connection to former dictator Suharto’s 1966-1998 regime and its excesses.
Both candidates met separately in private meetings with outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Wednesday night. After Widodo emerged, he urged supporters, who were setting off fireworks and riding motorbikes around the heart of the capital, to stand down.
“We appeal to the party’s members and sympathizers, volunteers and supporters, you don’t need to parade to celebrate the presidential election victory. It’s better for us to pray and give thanks,” he said. “We need to minimize frication that could arise.”
On Thursday, Jakarta’s police chief warned supporters from both sides that any public celebrations in the capital would result in arrests, and that patrols will be increased.
The quick counts tally is a representative sample of votes cast around the country and have accurately forecast the results of every Indonesian national election since 2004, including this past April’s parliamentary polls. It will be around two weeks before votes are officially tallied and the results announced in Indonesia, a country of 240 million people and the world’s most populous Muslim nation. This was the country’s third direct presidential election.
Within hours of the polls closing, Widodo was the first to declare himself the winner.
This is “not a victory for the party, not a victory for the campaign team, but this is a victory for the people of Indonesia,” Widodo, known by his nickname Jokowi, told supporters Wednesday evening from a historical site in Jakarta where the nation’s independence was declared.
But Subianto – a general in the Suharto regime and the late dictator’s former son-in-law – said he had different quick-count data showing he had won.
“Thank God, all the data from the quick counts show that we, Prabowo-Hatta, gained the people’s trust,” Subianto told a news conference, referring to his running mate, Hatta Rajasa.
“We ask all the coalition’s supporters and Indonesian people to guard and escort this victory until the official count” by the election commission, Subianto said.
Yudhoyono also urged both sides to “restrain themselves” and not allow their supporters to publicly declare victory until the election commission decides the winner. Himself a general in the Suharto regime, Yudhoyono was elected president in 2004. He served two five-year terms and was prevented by the constitution from seeking re-election.
Yudhoyono’s ruling Democratic Party, which earlier in the campaign said it was neutral, openly endorsed Subianto just two weeks before the election.
The two candidates are vastly different in their policies and styles.
Widodo was a furniture maker before turning to politics. His appeal is that despite a lack of experience in national politics, he is seen as a man of the people who wants to advance democratic reforms and is untainted by the often corrupt military and business elite that has run Indonesia for decades.
Subianto, meanwhile, had a dubious human rights record during his military career, but is seen as a strong and decisive leader.
Known for his thundering campaign speeches and taste for luxury cars, Subianto also has the support of Indonesia’s most hardline Islamic parties and has sparked concern among foreign investors worried about protectionism and a possible return to more authoritative policies.
Analysts say that Subianto’s past, including ordering the kidnappings of pro-democracy activists prior to Suharto’s fall in 1998, has not gone unnoticed and that some voters fear a return to the brutal late dictator’s New Order regime. Details about the abductions surfaced recently after the official findings of an army investigative panel were leaked.
Just a couple of months ago, the election was considered firmly in favor of Widodo, 53, who rose from humble beginnings to become the governor of Jakarta in 2012. But Subianto, 62, of the Great Indonesia Movement Party, led a late surge after picking up endorsements from most of the country’s major political parties and running a more efficient campaign.
Natalia Soebagjo, chair of Transparency International’s executive board in Indonesia, said it was reckless for either candidate to declare victory before the official results are announced. She said that the three most reputable quick-count results showed Widodo as the leader, and that she did not trust the surveys Subianto had cited.
“If this continues, I predict in the next 10 days we might see trouble,” she said.
“They can contest it in legal terms and in social terms by creating unrest,” Soebagjo added. “It all depends on what these candidates really want. Is their thirst for power so great that they would want to fight it out to the death?”
The campaign period was marred by smear tactics from both camps. But Widodo blamed his fall in opinion polls from a lead of more than 12 percentage points in May to around 3.5 points before the election on character assaults that accused him, among other things, of not being a follower of Islam. He has denounced the charges as lies, but says it’s hard to undo the damage they caused.
At the same time, Subianto’s campaign was more effective and better financed. He also enjoyed the support of two of the country’s largest television stations.
Subianto’s vows of tough leadership and promises that “Indonesia will become an Asian tiger once again” also gained footing with some voters fed up with Yudhoyono, who has been criticized for being ineffective and weak on some issues, including those involving neighbors Australia and Malaysia. Yudhoyono’s party also has been plagued by a string of recent high-profile corruption scandals.
The United States congratulated Indonesians on holding a “successful” election, with the White House saying in a statement that the poll underscored “the strength and dynamism of Indonesia’s maturing democracy.”
“As the world’s second- and third-largest democracies, the United States and Indonesia have many shared interests and values, including a strong belief in the importance of respect for human rights, inclusive governance, and equal opportunities for all people,” the statement said.
Associated Press writers Margie Mason and Ali Kotarumalos contributed to this report.