Indonesia election rivals toil in 'war rooms' to check ballots

An Indonesian policeman stands guard as an official stacks boxes containing election results in Bandung, West Java, on April 29, 2019.
An Indonesian policeman stands guard as an official stacks boxes containing election results in Bandung, West Java, on April 29, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA (REUTERS) - In a low-rise Jakarta office block, young Indonesian supporters of President Joko Widodo sit hunched over screens to count photographed vote tallies from polling stations, two weeks after an election to lead the world's third-biggest democracy.

Opposing campaigns have set up their own operations, dubbed "war rooms", to verify counts after Mr Joko's challenger, Mr Prabowo Subianto, disputed unofficial tallies by private pollsters giving the President a lead of about 10 points.

Retired general Prabowo has said his poll put him on 62 per cent and alleged widespread cheating, raising the prospect of a legal challenge when official results are released next month, and the risk of street protests.

In 2014, Mr Prabowo also claimed victory, before contesting the results at the Constitutional Court, which confirmed Mr Joko's win.

This time, social media has been awash with conspiracy theories questioning the neutrality of the election commission and election supervisory agency.

"There are heightened concerns about the electoral process this time because there have been consistent efforts to erode trust in the electoral commission using hoaxes and disinformation," said Mr Ben Bland, director of the South-east Asia project at Australian think-tank the Lowy Institute.

Nonetheless, he said the transparency of the vote count and public trust in Indonesia's election agencies should "ensure that, in the end, the final results will be seen as legitimate".

Counting is done manually in Indonesia and results are filled in on a tabulated form posted at polling stations with "official witnesses", including from parties, taking photographs of the so-called form.

A non-partisan organisation called Kawal Pemilu, or Guard the Election, used 45,000 volunteers to post photos of the forms on their website.

The group's co-founder, Ms Elina Ciptadi, said about 30 per cent of this data had been logged by vetted moderators to ensure it matched official tallies.

"The way we work, everybody verifies everybody's else's work," Ms Ciptadi said, adding that any discrepancies were reported to the election commission, which had been very responsive.



Mr Prabowo's running mate, Mr Sandiaga Uno, said his campaign was conducting its own verification of votes.

"This is a part of our effort to ensure that the election is honest and fair, because, for Prabowo and me, the mandate of the people must be fulfilled," he told reporters on Monday.

In Mr Joko's "war room", volunteers, some affiliated with parties backing the President, are paid four million rupiah (S$382.01) a month to work 12-hour shifts to count votes.

"It's important for democracy to have more varieties of data so that we can compare," campaign communications director Usman Kansong told Reuters.

The count at the election commission on Tuesday based on about 55 per cent of the 813,350 polling stations put Mr Joko at 56.13 per cent and Mr Prabowo at 43.87 per cent.

Mr Prabowo's campaign has said it has uncovered discrepancies in the voter list and alleged fraud in some places, claiming officials punched ballots in favour of Mr Joko.

Indonesia's chief security minister Wiranto said last week accusations that the government and security forces conspired with election agencies to conduct systematic fraud during the vote were "baseless".

Political analysts have said the size of Mr Joko's lead undermined the opposition's charge that the election was stolen, but noted that Islamist supporters of Mr Prabowo could still take to the streets to dispute the results.