Indonesia polls: Likely loser Prabowo tries to delay result

Indonesian candidate Prabowo Subianto (centre) walks with his team after a meeting in Jakarta on July 20, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Indonesian candidate Prabowo Subianto (centre) walks with his team after a meeting in Jakarta on July 20, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA (REUTERS) - The likely loser in Indonesia's presidential race made a last-gasp attempt to delay the announcement of the official election results on Tuesday, expected to declare Jakarta Governor Joko "Jokowi" Widodo as the nation's next leader.

Most private tallies show Jokowi beat former special forces chief Prabowo Subianto by about five percentage points.

Prabowo has refused to concede defeat, demanding the result be delayed by two weeks to investigate allegations of mass cheating. He is expected to challenge the vote in the Constitutional Court, though experts say such an appeal is unlikely to succeed.

"All we are asking for is time to study (the allegations). I think we are being reasonable," Prabowo's aide and younger brother, Hashim Djojohadikusumo, told Reuters.

He wants the announcement delayed until Aug. 9 and said that there was evidence of enough cheating to put the outcome in his brother's favour.

Both sides have claimed victory in the closest presidential election ever in the nation with the world's biggest Muslim community.

The Elections Commission scheduled the announcement for 4 pm (0900 GMT; 5pm Singapore time) after initially saying it would take place at 6 pm.

Outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has urged whoever loses to quickly acknowledge the outcome to avoid violence.

Jokowi's team has also asked supporters not to gather in public to celebrate an expected victory. "Admitting defeat is noble," the president told reporters on Monday, in a clear reference to Prabowo.

Hundreds of thousands of police and military are on heightened alert across the vast archipelago of 240 million people, the world's third largest democracy. There have been no reports of major violence. "There are a lot of rumours of instability and unrest but cautiously I'm confident that it is implausible," said Tobias Basuki, a political analyst at the CSIS think-tank.

Markets have rallied for the past few weeks as it started to become clear that Jokowi would be the next leader of Southeast Asia's largest economy. "The possibility of overturning the election result is very slim. Investors will instead focus on the presidential cabinet, which the new president should announce by October," said Sebastian Tobing of Jakarta-based brokerage Trimegah Securities.

CLEAN IMAGE The Jakarta Stock Exchange is trading near a one-year high and is the best performer in Southeast Asia, up 20 percent so far this year. The market on Tuesday was down 0.41 percent at 5,105.91 by 0442 GMT.

The rupiah has also strengthened against the dollar, gaining more than 5 percent so far this year, more than any other major Asian currency.

Jokowi has a film-star following.

Born in poverty, he has stormed his way to the top rungs of leadership with a clean image and a reputation for competence in local government, in complete contrast with the autocracy, corruption and power politics that have weighed down the country for decades.

Prabowo's reputation as a strongman and his vow to reverse the indecisiveness of the outgoing government won him a large following among voters yearning for a return to old-style politics.

Candidates can lodge complaints with the Constitutional Court, as did the losers of the previous two elections since strongman ruler Suharto was forced to step down in 1998 after more than three decades in power.

The Court must return a verdict on any challenge within two weeks and it cannot be appealed. "It is going to take a lot to push this to the Constitutional Court. Prabowo's camp has to prove there was massive, systemic fraud," Basuki said.

Election officials said reports of irregularities had been investigated, but the number of disputed votes is limited to thousands of cases.

Analysts believe a reversal of up to seven million votes would be needed to overturn Jokowi's lead and hand victory to Prabowo.