Indonesia: Risk Of Post-Election Dispute

Indonesia is at risk of a disputed election result following today's presidential vote, as both candidates claimed victory.

The presumed winner is Jakarta governor Joko Widodo (Jokowi). Quick counts show that he leads former special forces general Prabowo Subianto by 53% to 47%, but the latter says that he has won. Official results are not out until July 21-22.

Prabowo could thus contest the result, either by legal means, or mobilising his supporters on the streets. Indonesia is still an immature democracy, with Wednesday's election being only the third direct presidential election in the country's history. Prior to 2004, Indonesia experienced six years of political chaos following the overthrow of three-decade ruler Suharto in May 1998. During that time, the presidency changed hands three times, and the country experienced multiple separatist rebellions, terrorist attacks, and incidents of ethnic and religious violence.

Although Indonesia has stabilised since then, we have yet to see a second consecutive orderly transfer of power from one president to another. Therefore, a smooth transition from outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (who is ineligible for a third five-year term) is important for Indonesia's democratic credentials.

Even if the election result is not disputed, Indonesia faces a period of political limbo, as the next president will not take office until October. Assuming that Jokowi prevails, the narrowness of his win (especially compared to his 30-point lead over Prabowo earlier this year) would reduce the strength of his mandate. Meanwhile, political forces allied to Prabowo, which represent Indonesia's traditional elites, could frustrate Jokowi's reformist agenda.