(Reuters) – Indonesia’s Joko “Jokowi” Widodo claimed victory in Wednesday’s closely fought presidential race in what would be a triumph for a new breed of politician that has emerged in the world’s third-largest democracy.
But ex-general Prabowo Subianto, the rival candidate who is seen as a representative of the old guard that flourished under decades of autocratic rule, refused to concede. His party said he still had a chance of winning.
After a quick count of about 90 percent of votes, Jakarta governor Jokowi was ahead with about 5 percent of the votes in what would be the narrowest victory in the three times that Indonesia has held direct presidential elections.
“We are thankful that according to the quick count announcements, until now, they show that Jokowi-JK at this moment in the count have won,” Jokowi told reporters and jubilant supporters in south Jakarta. JK refers to his running mate Jufuf Kalla, who was a vice president in the first term of outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
There has been no public comment yet by Prabowo.
“It’s too early to say that (Jokowi has won). This is still in the quick count stage and several TV stations have different results. The final result will be July 22 by the KPU (Election Commission) so (we are) still optimistic that Prabowo (has won),” the vice chairman of Prabowo’s Gerindra party, Fadli Zon, told Reuters.
The private quick counts have been reliable in past elections but an official result must await the Election Commission. Both sides have to wait until that announcement before they can register any protests with the Constitutional Court, the final arbiter over contested polls.
“There have always been challenges…So we could end up with delayed certainty for a few weeks,” Douglas Ramage, a Jakarta-based political analyst told Reuters.
Ahead of the vote, the two candidates had been neck and neck in opinion polls. There have been concerns of violence once the result is known, a worry alluded to by outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono when he urged both sides to accept the result.
It has been the dirtiest and most confrontational campaign in memory in a country which traditionally holds up the value of consensus politics.
But there were no reports of any violence during the voting and in the early hours of counting.
The government declared Wednesday a public holiday and markets were closed although offshore rupiah rose against the dollar on Jokowi’s victory claim.
“This is one of the most important elections in Indonesia’s reformation history,” Bernard Wanandi, 37, said at a polling station in Menteng, a Jakarta suburb. “As a young generation, we have high expectations of the new leader, hoping he will bring the country forward and change the country tremendously.”
The election is being held during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, in the country with the world’s biggest population of Muslims.
There has been growing frustration over the way Indonesia, southeast Asia’s biggest economy, has been governed with corruption rampant and growth slowing.
It is a sentiment both candidates have addressed in their campaigns, although they offer starkly different personalities.
Jokowi, 53 and born into poverty, has stormed his way to the top rungs of leadership with a clean image and a reputation for competence in local government, a reversal of the autocracy, corruption and power politics that have weighed down Indonesia for decades.
Considered Indonesia’s most popular politician, Jokowi’s once insurmountable lead in opinion polls all but disappeared in recent weeks in the face of smear campaigns and expensive and intensely focused electioneering by Prabowo.
Prabowo, 62, ran on the promise of strong, tough leadership, playing up his military past and invoking memories of Indonesia’s post-colonial and fiercely nationalist first president Sukarno, who ruled from 1945-67.
Prabowo’s high-profile military career, during which he rose speedily through the ranks, unravelled quickly after the 1998 fall of long-serving autocrat Suharto, his former father-in-law.
“I just voted for Prabowo because I’ve been promised by his party they will pay for my children’s education. I personally like him because he is the former son-in-law of Suharto,” said housewife Titi Rahayati, 49, in the West Java city of Tasikmalaya.
West Java, the most populous province with a fifth of the total vote, could decide the presidential race. It is home to a highly conservative brand of Islam and is the country’s second largest rice producer.
Polls ahead of the election showed that Prabowo, who has the backing of three major Islamic-based parties, lead the province.
Prabowo was discharged from the army for breaking the chain of command and ordering troops to arrest activists. He was never investigated on any criminal charge and has consistently denied wrongdoing.
The election will mark the first time a directly elected president hands over the reins to another. Outgoing President Yudhoyono, who has largely disappointed in recent years, must step down in October after serving two terms.
A Prabowo win is expected to weaken markets due to concerns he will introduce protectionist policies in the financial and farm sectors, and launch big debt-funded spending projects.
“I hope the new leader will be better than the past and doesn’t make empty promises,” said Nunu, 54, in Menteng. “In the past they never fulfilled any promises.”
(Additional reporting by Randy Fabi, Benny Louis Siahaya, Gayatri Suroyo, Adriana Nina Kusuma and Dennys Kapa in Jakarta, and Lewa Pardomuan in Tasikmalaya, Editing by Jonathan Thatcher and Raju Gopalakrishnan)