- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 9, 2014

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — The rival candidates in Indonesia’s presidential election each claimed victory Wednesday, raising the possibility of potentially destabilizing political and legal uncertainty in a nation that made the transition from dictatorship to democracy less than two decades ago.

According to the three most reputable quick count surveyors, the soft-spoken Jakarta Gov. Joko Widodo had won the polls in Southeast Asia’s largest economy with 52 percent of the vote. He is the first candidate in direct elections with no connection to former dictator Suharto’s 1966-1998 regime and its excesses.

The quick counts tally a representative sample of votes cast around the country and have accurately forecast the results of Indonesian national elections since 2004, including this April’s parliamentary polls. It will be around two weeks before votes are officially tallied and the results announced in the world’s populous Muslim nation of 240 million people.

“At the time being, the quick counts show that Jokowi-Kalla is the winner,” Widodo, known by his nickname Jokowi, told a news conference, referring to his vice presidential running mate, Jusuf Kalla.

But Widodo’s opponent, Prabowo Subianto — a general in the Suharto regime and his ex-son in law — said he also had different quick count data showing he had won.

“Thank God, all the data from the quick counts shows that we, Prabowo-Hatta, gained the people’s trust,” Subianto told a news conference, referring to his running mate, Hatta Rajasa.

Outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono urged both camps to “restrain themselves” and not allow their supporters to publicly declare victory until the election commission decides the winner. Yudhoyono, also a general in the Suharto regime, was elected president in 2004. He served two five-year terms and was prevented by the constitution from seeking re-election.

Widodo’s 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, has a dubious human rights record during his military career but it seen as a strong and decisive leader.

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, led a late surge after picking up the endorsement of most of the country’s largest and well-organized political parties and running an efficient ground campaign.

The two candidates are vastly different in their policies and styles. Widodo is a soft-spoken man who likes to wear sneakers and casual plaid shirts, listen to heavy metal music and make impromptu visits to the slums.

Subianto is known for his thundering campaign speeches, a penchant for luxury cars and having trotted up to one campaign rally on an expensive horse. He has the support of the most hard-line Islamic parties and has sparked concern among foreign investors worried about protectionism and a possible return to more authoritative policies.

“Many Indonesian Muslims prefer Prabowo’s strong and dynamic character, which can stand up in facing the foreign policies of neighboring countries and the U.S.,” said Ikrar Nusabhakti, a political analyst from the Indonesia Institute of Science. “Other people are responding positively to Jokowi’s caring and earthy traits.”

The campaign period was marred by smear tactics, known here as black campaigns, from both camps. But Widodo blamed his fall in opinion polls from a lead of more than 12 percentage points in May to just 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 it caused.

At the same time, Subianto’s campaign has been more effective and better financed. He also enjoyed the support of two of the country’s largest television stations.

“I think these black campaigns were effective enough to convince communities,” said Hamdi Muluk, a political analyst from the University of Indonesia. “And that has directly ruined Widodo’s image.”

But he added that Subianto’s past, including ordering the kidnappings of pro-democracy activists prior to Suharto’s fall in 1998, has not gone unnoticed and some voters fear a return to the brutal dictator’s New Order regime. Details about the abductions surfaced recently after the official findings of an army investigative panel were leaked.

“Considering the role models and figures behind Widodo’s team, I believe many new voters tend to support Jokowi,” Muluk said. “A return to the New Order is not popular among youngsters or new voters. They are interested more in change.”

This is Indonesia’s third direct presidential election, and has played out with fury in the social media-crazed country. There has been a frenzy of “unfriending” on Facebook pages belonging to users who support different camps.

Subianto, of the Great Indonesia Movement Party, has been gaining allies. Outgoing President Yudhoyono’s ruling Democratic Party, which earlier in the campaign said it was neutral, openly endorsed Subianto just two weeks before the election.

Subianto’s vows of tough leadership and promises that “Indonesia will become an Asian tiger once again” have 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 has also been plagued by a string of recent high-profile corruption scandals.


Associated Press writers Margie Mason and Ali Kotarumalos contributed to this report.

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