Vote count in Indonesia elections may take a month

Election officials carry ballot boxes in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia, on April 18, 2019.
Election officials carry ballot boxes in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia, on April 18, 2019. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Tense weeks ahead as Prabowo accuses pollsters of fabricating quick-count results

Indonesia could be on tenterhooks for more than a month until the results of Wednesday's elections are revealed, setting the stage for a tense few weeks as presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto yesterday remained on the warpath against pollsters.

The elections commission late on Thursday said it may take up to 35 days to complete the official tally of votes cast for Wednesday's presidential and legislative polls, which the country held on the same day for the first time in its history.

General Elections Commission (KPU) chief Arief Budiman said the "real counts" are being conducted in stages - first at polling stations across the country, and then consolidated at a national level.

"KPU is granted a maximum of 35 days," Mr Arief said, but he added that he was also not ruling out the possibility that the process could be completed more quickly.

More than 192 million Indonesians were eligible to vote at the simultaneous polls, making them arguably the biggest single-day elections ever held in the world.

The surprise high turnout at the polls means possibly 80 per cent, or more than 150 million people, voted for the presidency and representatives in four other levels of government in Indonesia.

Quick counts have put President Joko Widodo on track for re-election, but while he acknowledged that the unofficial results gave him and running mate Ma'ruf Amin 54.5 per cent of the vote, Mr Joko has repeatedly called on supporters to wait for the official KPU tally.

 
 

Mr Prabowo, however, has disputed the quick counts and continued to claim that his own campaign team's tabulation of votes shows him winning the election, putting the country on course for another difficult period following a divisive and long election campaign.

Yesterday, Mr Prabowo attended a mass gathering held outside his South Jakarta home after the Muslim noon prayers, to mark the end of peaceful elections.

More than a thousand people were there to greet the former army general, chanting his name and calling him "president", as he arrived and appeared through the sunroof of his white luxury MPV.

Speaking to the crowd from a stage erected outside his home, Mr Prabowo again accused pollsters of lying and fabricating the quick-count results to favour Mr Joko.

"Hey pollsters, liars, people no longer want to listen to you," he said. "Maybe you should move out of this country. The people's wishes can no longer be repressed."

Security in Jakarta was high due to fears of a repeat of the mass street rally that hardliners held in the capital on Dec 2, 2016, amid the gubernatorial election campaign.

The 2016 rally, attended by hundreds of thousands of people, was staged to protest against former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, after he was charged with blasphemy. Mr Basuki, better known by his nickname Ahok, would later lose in his bid for re-election to his opponent Anies Baswedan - who was backed by Mr Prabowo - and get two years' jail after being convicted of insulting Islam.

Yesterday's event, which also saw several Islamic clerics take the stage to speak in support of Mr Prabowo, continued into the evening and went by peacefully.

Mr Prabowo is expected to challenge the official results if they do not go his way, repeating his move back in 2014, when he lost to Mr Joko in the previous presidential race.

At the event yesterday, Mr Prabowo also claimed there were efforts to falsely implicate him for plotting "something sinister", and reminded his supporters to remain calm and not be provoked by the unofficial quick-count results. "I want my supporters to respect the law, prioritise the Constitution, and don't be provoked so easily," he said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 20, 2019, with the headline 'Vote count in Indonesia elections may take a month'. Print Edition | Subscribe