Indonesia warns against unrest as Widodo rival rejects results

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Jakarta, Apr 18 : Indonesian authorities warned Thursday against unrest as a firebrand ex-general rejected unofficial election results that appeared to hand President Joko Widodo another term as leader of the world’s third-biggest democracy.

National Police Chief Tito Karnavian said Wednesday’s “smooth and safe” polls would not be disrupted by demonstrations, and warned of arrests.

“If there are any illegal or unconstitutional actions that threaten public stability and security, (authorities) will take firm action,” he said.

“We won’t tolerate it.

“I urge everyone against mass demonstrations, whether it’s to celebrate or to express dissatisfaction” at the results, Karnavian added.

This year’s campaign was punctuated by bitter mudslinging and a slew of fake news online — much of it directed at the presidential contenders.

Authorities said Thursday they had seen a spike in false reports and hoaxes, with some calling for chaos in the streets and for Indonesians to commit violence in response to the results.

However, the capital Jakarta was quiet Thursday after as many as 190 million voters in the Muslim-majority country cast ballots in the one day poll — which featured a record 245,000 candidates — to elect a new president, parliamentarians and local legislators.

While official results are not due until next month, a series of so-called “quick counts” by pollsters, which are based on samples, showed Widodo between 9-11 percentage points ahead.

Quick counts have been reliable indicators in past elections, but Widodo held off declaring victory — while his rival Prabowo Subianto insisted he was the archipelago’s next leader.

The former general — who has close ties to the Suharto dictatorship, which collapsed in 1998 — earlier warned he would challenge the results in court if he lost and stage street protest over allegations of voter fraud.

“We will not use illegal tactics because we have won,” Subianto said Wednesday.

“For those who defended (my rivals), I’m still going to defend you. I’m the president of all Indonesians.” The 67-year-old, who has long had his eye on the country’s top job, lost to Widodo in 2014 and then mounted an unsuccessful legal challenge to that election.

Online, the retired military man was pilloried by social media users who poked fun at his repudiation of the unofficial results and for kissing the ground as he declared himself president.

“We honestly feel sorry for Prabowo, not because he’s lost the election (again) but because he is surrounded by people who made him a zombie who can’t differentiate between reality and illusion,” said one Twitter user with 165,000 followers.

National newspapers called for reconciliation, with top-selling Kompas saying “Let’s Unite”, while Tempo declared it “One More Time” for Widodo.

Financial markets cheered, with the Jakarta composite stock index and rupiah currency both higher.

“We expect official results in May to confirm President Jokowi’s re-election as indicated by the quick count,” said Priyanka Kishore at Oxford Economics in Singapore, using Widodo’s nickname.

But she added that an infrastucture-pushing Widodo would still face challenges boosting annual growth of about five percent in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy, as it racks up trade deficits and contends with softer commodity prices.

“We do not think that beyond a short-term boost to sentiment, Jokowi’s re-election alters Indonesia’s economic fortunes materially,” Kishore said.

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