Joko Widodo wins Indonesia presidency, but his rival won't throw in the towel (+video)

Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo was declared the official victor in Indonesia's tightest presidential race. But his opponent Prabowo Subianto withdrew, claiming 'mass fraud.'

By , Correspondent

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    Indonesian presidential candidate Joko "Jokowi" Widodo (L) and his running mate Jusuf Kalla smile after they were declared winners inside the Elections Commission headquarters in central Jakarta July 22, 2014. Jokowi was declared the winner of Indonesia's presidential election on Tuesday, bringing the promise of major reforms to the world's third largest democracy. The Elections Commission, known as KPU, said the Jakarta governor had won by just over six percentage points, with 53.15 percent of the nearly 130 million votes cast on July 9.
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Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo is the winner of Indonesia's presidential race, the country's election commission confirmed Tuesday. The former furniture salesman with a popular everyman touch will lead the world's third largest democracy. 

Mr. Widodo won 53 percent of the vote, according to the Election Commission, confirming early predictions that he had bested former Gen. Prabowo Subianto in the country's third direct presidential election.

Now Widodo, better known as Jokowi, faces the dual challenge of confronting the stark problems facing Indonesia, including a sluggish economy and poor education system, while healing a political divide. The election results are the closest in Indonesia's short history of direct presidential elections; the previous two direct elections were won in landslides by incumbent president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono

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That job got harder, when, just hours before the Elections Commission was due to announce results, Mr. Subianto said he was withdrawing from the race, citing “massive and systemic fraud” in the country’s electoral system. 

Advisors close to Subianto, the former son-in-law of longtime strongman Suharto, gave conflicting statements on whether Subianto was withdrawing as a candidate or ending his cooperation with the Election Commission. Whether he can even legally withdraw from the race is unclear: under Indonesian law, candidates registered with the Election Commission face a 50 billion rupiah ($4.31 million) fine and up to five years in jail if they withdraw early.

The fraud allegation will hurt Widodo's claim to power in the short term and his ability to reach out to political parties that had aligned with Subianto. Analysts worry that by not clearly conceding the race, Subianto has given new life to the ethnic and religious smears that dogged Widodo, a secular Muslim, making it tougher to connect with the country’s more devote followers of Islam.

“After the black campaigns and the religious sentiment that appeared during the election it was always going to be hard for Jokowi to heal the divide,” says Philips Vermonte, head of the department of politics and international relations at the Jakarta-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, using the local term for political smear campaigns which dogged this election. “What’s Prabowo’s done will prolong that process.”

Prabowo may be trying to salvage his political capital. By many accounts, Prabowo considered the presidency his destiny, having been early groomed for the role by his father, a prominent economist during the Suharto years. 

Many eyes now are on the incumbent president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who is legally barred from seeking a third five-year term, but could play a key role in smoothing the transition to Widodo.

Mr. Yudhoyono is eager to oversee a peaceful transfer of power in order to protect his legacy and perhaps make a bid for a role at an international body such as the United Nations, says Fauzi Ichsan, Standard Chartered’s senior economist and managing director of Jakarta operations. 

“SBY’s [Yudhoyono’s] role is pivotal. He needs to be seen handing off power to a successor,” he says. 

Promises by the military and the police to remain neutral will likely ensure public order, Mr. Ichsan says. 

Prabowo’s seven-party coalition in the House of Representatives, which controls about two-third of the seats in parliament, is also cracking. Agung Laksono, deputy chairman of Golkar, and who has the second largest block of seats in the House of Representatives, has publicly said he opposes disputing the official results.

"Prabowo just may not be in the mindset to give up,”Ichsan says. “He just can’t accept this reality very easily.”

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