The ex-general who lost Indonesia’s presidential election to Joko Widodo will challenge the result in court, his campaign team said on Wednesday, a move that could spell weeks of uncertainty for the world’s third-biggest democracy.
Widodo, the reform-minded governor of Jakarta seen as a break from the autocratic era of dictator Suharto, was named the winner on Tuesday after results showed he resoundingly defeated his only rival Prabowo Subianto.
Reform-minded governor wins Indonesian presidential race
Before the result was announced, Prabowo – who was a senior general in the years of authoritarian rule and has been dogged by human rights abuse allegations – angrily announced he was withdrawing from the election process.
Prabowo, who had earlier claimed victory in the July 9 election, accused his opponent of cheating in the vote count.
Members of his campaign team indicated Tuesday he would not challenge the result in the Constitutional Court, as had been widely expected, because he was no longer a participant in the election.
But in a surprise announcement Wednesday, a spokesman for Prabowo insisted that he had not withdrawn from the whole election process, only the vote count – meaning he could still contest the result and planned to do so.
Analysts do not expect a court challenge to succeed given the size of Widodo’s victory – he won by six percentage points or about 8.4 million votes – but it nevertheless signals weeks of uncertainty, as the court will likely issue a ruling on August 21.
Prabowo team spokesman Tantowi Yahya announced the decision to contest the result and said a challenge would be filed within three days.
He said the challenge would be directed at the election commission, which Prabowo has accused of mishandling the vote, adding his side considered 21 million votes to be in dispute.
Prabowo’s brother Hashim Djojohadikusumo, a wealthy businessman who has provided financial backing for the campaign, added: “We are looking for justice... we are expecting some fairness.”
He also urged foreign leaders not to congratulate Widodo, as “the legal process has not ended yet”. US Secretary of State John Kerry and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott are among those who have already sent congratulations.
Widodo seemed unperturbed by his rival’s challenge and returned to his duties as the Jakarta governor at city hall on Wednesday. He will not be inaugurated as president until October.
He said preparations for his new job were “in progress” and a special office to help with the transition had already been set up.
Newspapers welcomed his victory, with the major Indonesian-language paper, Kompas, showing a photo of a grinning Widodo alongside his running mate Jusuf Kalla, under the headline: “It’s time to move together”.
The words were from Widodo’s victory speech delivered late on Tuesday, in which he urged Indonesia to unite following the country’s tightest and most divisive election since the downfall of Suharto in 1998.
A Constitutional Court official said that if Prabowo’s team filed the appeal by Friday, then hearings would begin on August 6 and a ruling would be delivered on August 21.
There have been concerns about the court’s impartiality after its former chief justice was jailed for life last month for accepting bribes in return for favourable rulings in local election disputes.
The court would also be unlikely to shift such a large number of votes from one candidate to another, said Yohanes Sulaiman, an analyst from the Indonesian Defence University.
Despite Prabowo’s claims of cheating, observers in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation have said the poll was largely free and fair.
Widodo’s victory capped a meteoric rise for the former furniture exporter who was born in a riverbank slum, and won legions of fans with his common touch during his time as Jakarta governor.
Prabowo, who won support with his fiery nationalistic rhetoric, has admitted ordering the abduction of democracy activists in the Suharto era and was formerly married one of the dictator’s daughters.