Indonesia’s Prabowo claims victory in presidential election

Rival candidates allege cheating as defence minister on track to clinch election in one round

Indonesia’s defence minister Prabowo Subianto declared victory in a presidential election on Wednesday after unofficial vote counts showed him with a huge lead, and on course for a single-round win in his third attempt at the presidency.

Mr Prabowo, a political veteran and former special forces commander, trounced his rivals, winning about 58 per cent of votes according to four pollsters, based on “quick count” ballots at samples of voting stations nationwide.

Appearing before supporters alongside his running mate, the incumbent president’s son Gibran Rakabuming Raka, Mr Prabowo (72) declared the outcome “a victory for all Indonesians”, in a rousing speech that drew roars and applause.

“We are grateful for the quick count results. All the calculation, all pollsters including those on our rivals’ side, the figures showed a Prabowo-Gibran win in one round,” he said. “We will assemble a government consisting of the best sons and daughters of Indonesia.”


Rivals Anies Baswedan and Ganjar Pranowo trailed with about 25 per cent and 17 per cent respectively, according to the independent pollsters conducting the sample counts, which in previous elections have proven to be accurate.

A preliminary count by the election commission was far slower and showed Mr Prabowo securing 57.7 per cent of votes with about 6 per cent of ballots recorded.

The contest pitted the two popular former governors against the pre-election frontrunner Mr Prabowo, who was feared in the 1990s as a top lieutenant of Indonesia’s late strongman ruler Suharto.

Crucially, Mr Prabowo has the tacit backing of the wildly popular incumbent Joko Widodo, who is betting on his former rival as a continuity candidate to preserve his legacy, including the inclusion of his 36-year-old son Gibran on the ticket.

Mr Anies and Mr Ganjar urged the public not to draw conclusions on the outcome and to await the official result, which is expected by March 20th at the latest.

Their campaign teams said they were investigating reports of electoral violations, both calling it “structural, systematic and massive fraud”. They did not provide evidence.

To win in a single round, a candidate needs more than 50 per cent of votes cast and at least 20 per cent of the ballot in half of the country’s provinces. If no candidate wins a majority, a runoff between the top two finishers will be held in June.

The world’s biggest single-day election saw nearly 259,000 candidates vie for 20,600 posts across the archipelago of 17,000 islands. In the legislative contest, a coalition of parties backing Mr Prabowo had about 42 per cent of votes, while an alliance behind Mr Anies had 27 per cent, indicating a potential Prabowo government could have strong parliamentary backing.

But top billing on Wednesday was always the race to replace Jokowi, as the incumbent is known, whose influence could be the decisive factor in who takes the helm of a resource-rich Group of 20 economy of at least $1.3 trillion (€1.2 trillion).

Arya Fernandes of Indonesia’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, one of the pollsters, said Mr Prabowo had a commanding margin of victory in the unofficial figures.

“There is a tendency among voters to be drawn to strong leaders,” he said. “The effectiveness of the ‘political support’ from the incumbent has been a contributing factor.”

Jokowi has reached his limit of two terms and had not explicitly backed a candidate, but he made highly publicised appearances with Mr Prabowo at state events, prompting a storm of criticism that he has over-reached, unlike predecessors who were neutral over their succession.

Jokowi was also accused of interfering in a ruling by a court headed by his brother-in-law that changed eligibility rules, which allowed his son to contest the vice-presidency. Jokowi’s loyalists have rejected allegations of meddling.

Mr Prabowo in his speech expressed gratitude that the election was peaceful and said it showed democracy was working well.

Deadly riots broke out after the 2019 election, when Mr Prabowo had vigorously contested Jokowi’s victory.

Since then, Mr Prabowo has transformed his image into a cuddly, cat-loving grandfatherly figure, attracting a huge youth following on social media in a country where more than half of the nearly 205 million electorate is under 40.

Mr Prabowo said those were his key supporters.

Mr Ganjar has campaigned largely on continuing the president’s policies as a member of the same party PDI-P, but crucially lacked Jokowi’s endorsement. He remained upbeat on Wednesday, but said his camp would investigate reports of fraud, which he did not detail.

“All the witnesses, all the parties, they are now working and no struggle is in vain. And of course everyone is still enthusiastic,” he said.

Mr Anies’s camp said it had found many violations and cheating by village-level and government officials and police. It did not cite evidence but said its findings had been recorded.

But political analysts said the margin of Mr Prabowo’s lead in the unofficial counts would make it difficult for rivals to launch a viable challenge.

“This is an emphatic result that diminishes prospects for legal challenges and will also provide the Widodo-Prabowo alliance with an element of affirmation from the public for decision-making in the months ahead,” said political analyst Kevin O’Rourke. – Reuters