Prabowo says Indonesia is like North Korea in speech to challenge poll results

Indonesia's losing presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto waves as he leaves the Constitutional Court in Jakarta on Aug 6, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Indonesia's losing presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto waves as he leaves the Constitutional Court in Jakarta on Aug 6, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA (AFP) - Ex-general Prabowo Subianto angrily compared Indonesia to a "totalitarian country like North Korea" at the start of a legal challenge on Wednesday to the results of the country's presidential election, as hundreds of flag-waving supporters staged a rally.

In a fiery speech at the Constitutional Court, Prabowo also lashed out at the "dishonesty and injustice" of the poll in the world's third-biggest democracy, which he lost to Jakarta governor Joko Widodo.

Widodo, a former furniture exporter known by his nickname Jokowi, won legions of fans with his down-to-earth style as Jakarta governor and is the country's first leader from outside the political and military elites.

Prabowo, a controversial former military figure with roots in the era of dictator Suharto, also declared victory at the July 9 presidential election, but official results two weeks later confirmed Widodo won a decisive victory.

The ex-general - who has been seeking the presidency for a decade - has still refused to accept the results, however, claiming there was widespread fraud and irregularities during the vote count.

His team has filed a lengthy complaint against the election commission with the Constitutional Court in the capital Jakarta, which rules on poll disputes. They claim that Prabowo is the true winner of the election, that fraud occurred at tens of thousands of polling stations, and that election officials failed to order recounts in numerous places where they should have.

'It's our right to get angry'

At a preliminary hearing on Wednesday, Prabowo delivered a typically fierce speech, saying his side had "tens of thousands" of witnesses who could back up his claims. He said the coalition of seven parties backing his presidential bid were "hurt by the practices of distortion, dishonesty and injustice" during the election.

"There are hundreds of polling stations where our coalition... received zero votes. This could only happen in a totalitarian country like North Korea," he said. "In a normal country, it's not possible," he added.

While there were some instances of vote fraud during the election, most analysts consider the country's third direct presidential election since the end of authoritarian rule in 1998 to have been free and fair.

Prabowo said he was seeking "justice for the Indonesian people and for the democracy that we have agreed upon, because if justice cannot be served, we are very, very worried for the future of Indonesia's democracy, Indonesia's people."

Outside the court, hundreds of supporters waved flags emblazoned with pictures of Prabowo, as speakers denounced the election result and claimed the ex-general was the true winner.

"We have been treated unfairly so it is our right to get angry," one speaker told the crowd.

Security was tight, with hundreds of riot police guarding the court and water cannons on standby in case the situation got out of hand.

At Wednesday's hearing, a nine-judge panel will decide whether the documents from Prabowo's team are in order or if they need to be revised and submitted again. The panel has until August 21 to issue a ruling, which is final and binding.

Despite Prabowo's thundering rhetoric, the challenge is widely expected to fail.

While the presidential election was the closest since three decades of authoritarian rule came to an end, Widodo still won by a margin of six percentage points, or more than eight million votes.

The court has never moved such a large chunk of votes from one candidate to another and observers don't expect it to do so this time, or to order a full recount of the vote.

The losers in Indonesia's two previous direct presidential elections both sought to challenge the result in court but the cases were quickly thrown out due to lack of evidence.

There have been concerns about the court's impartiality after its former chief justice was jailed for life in June for accepting bribes to influence rulings on regional election disputes. But the heightened public scrutiny of the court is expected to mean that the institution will be at pains to appear squeaky clean.

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