With vote counts tallied by several trusted polling organizations, moderate incumbent president Joko Widodo appeared Wednesday to win a second term as Indonesia’s president, defeating a retired general who had courted nationalist and conservative Islamic forces in a campaign waged on the country’s fault lines. His apparent victory over Prabowo Subianto in a presidential election
With vote counts tallied by several trusted polling organizations, moderate incumbent president Joko Widodo appeared Wednesday to win a second term as Indonesia’s president, defeating a retired general who had courted nationalist and conservative Islamic forces in a campaign waged on the country’s fault lines.
His apparent victory over Prabowo Subianto in a presidential election held Wednesday marked a rare bright spot in a region that has trended toward authoritarian and strongman rule. The overwhelmingly peaceful and orderly vote also underscored how contested, democratic elections have become the norm in Muslim-majority Indonesia two decades after the bloody end of authoritarian rule under Suharto.
Widodo urged supporters to wait for official results as they broke out in cheers, chanting his nickname, Jokowi, and heralding his reelection.
“From the implication of exit polls and quick count, all of which we’ve seen, we have to be patient until [the election authority’s] calculation, he said.
Widodo was gathered with his inner circle, including his running mate, influential cleric Maruf Amin, and the head of his political party, former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, at a ballroom in central Jakarta, smiling and laughing.
But Prabowo, reprising a similar move following his presidential election defeat in 2014, refused to concede and claimed victory instead. In comments to reporters, he said exit polls show that he had won and disputed the preliminary results from the independent surveys.
“Let me emphasize to Indonesian people that there are attempts from survey institutions that we know are working for the other camp, to steer the opinion that we’ve lost,” he said. “Brothers and sisters, don’t take the bait.”
Prabowo claimed he had won with 52 percent of the vote.
By Wednesday evening, several polling organizations that had tallied between 70 and 90 percent of votes showed Widodo leading by about 10 points — a larger margin than his victory in 2014 by six percentage points. Indonesian presidents are elected by direct popular vote.
For Widodo, victory would represent an endorsement of his moderate, steady brand of leadership, which has focused on infrastructure development and welfare programs for the poor. His rival, 67-year-old Prabowo, is a retired lieutenant general and son-in-law of Suharto. He was blacklisted from entering the United States for years because of his human rights record.
In his campaign, he railed against elitists, promised self-sufficiency for Indonesia and vowed to do more for the poor. He also played to a base of Islamic conservative voters, pledging to be a strong defender of the religion.
More than 192 million eligible voters fanned out to 800,000 polling stations scattered across hundreds of islands in the archipelago, and 6 million electoral workers staffed the mammoth and mind-boggling logistical operation. All modes of transportation, from boat to horse, were used to transport ballot boxes.
The election was colored by identity politics and the role that Islam should play in Indonesian society and politics. Despite Widodo’s apparent win, critics and some of his early supporters say the shine has rubbed off the president, a 57-year-old former furniture salesman who rose from political obscurity to win in 2014.
Over the past five years, his critics charge, he has been weak on human rights and has not done enough to protect religious minorities, instead playing to conservative Islamic forces, as shown by his choice of an influential cleric as his running mate. Like Prabowo, he has tried to appeal to Muslims, but those who want Islam to play a more limited role in politics.
In protests against both candidates, some eligible voters chose to abstain, a practice called “golput” — a reference to the white part of the ballot paper. Among them was Ruth Ogetay, 34, a women rights’ activist for Papua, Indonesia’s easternmost province and the scene of frequent violence in response to its calls for independence.
“Jokowi didn’t resolve the many rights violations in Papua, and Prabowo is the worst offender of human rights in Papua,” she said, referring toPrabowo’s tenure as commander of the military special forces.
The peaceful and sometimes jubilant process on Wednesday, with voters proudly holding up their pinkie fingers marked with indelible ink and taking post-voting selfies outside polling stations, underscored the cementing of democracy and contested elections in Indonesia.
In Glodok, an area in Jakarta known as an ethnic minority Chinese Indonesian enclave, some voters began lining up at 6:30 a.m., half an hour before polls opened. Cuncun, 53, was the second person to cast a ballot at a polling station near a traditional market.
Declining to say which candidate he picked, he said he went in the morning because it was his political right. “It was easy — just walk in there and vote,” he said.
A 48-year-old voter who identified herself only as Lydia said she believed the divisive campaigns playing to religion were only on the surface. Along with other voters she sang Indonesia’s national anthem, “Indonesia Raya,” as people cast their ballots.
“Here in this place, we’re just cool with one another. Only a small group of people are like that,” she said, adding that she has never missed an election.
Complicating the calm and amicable scenes across many polling stations on Wednesday were allegations from the Prabowo camp that the election was somehow rigged in favor of the incumbent.
“Secure the polls. Don’t let up,” Prabowo said Wednesday evening. “I advise all of my supporters to remain calm and don’t get provoked to incite anarchy. Guard our voter boxes, because that’s the key to our victory, so the lies from the other camp can be countered.”
The election was not without irregularities and complaints. In Kuta, on the island of Bali, local media reported that some polling stations had run out of ballots. Dozens of people were told to wait for more to come.
On Tuesday, Indonesia’s election supervisory body also found thousands of pre-marked ballots in Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, in favor of Widodo. The election authority will schedule a revote in that city, according to the Jakarta Post.