Indonesian court upholds Widodo's election victory

Presi Mandari
Indonesian president-elect Joko Widodo (L) and vice president-elect Jusuf Kalla gesture after a press conference in Jakarta on August 20, 2014
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Indonesian president-elect Joko Widodo (L) and vice president-elect Jusuf Kalla gesture after a press conference in Jakarta on August 20, 2014 (AFP Photo/Adek Berry)

Jakarta (AFP) - An Indonesian court Thursday upheld the victory of Joko Widodo at last month's presidential election, rejecting claims of widespread cheating from his opponent and ending weeks of political uncertainty in the world's third-biggest democracy.

The Constitutional Court's dismissal of ex-general Prabowo Subianto's challenge seals victory for Widodo, Indonesia's first leader without deep roots in the era of dictator Suharto, and will allow him to focus on preparing to take office in October.

"We very much value and appreciate the work of the Constitutional Court," said Widodo, the reform-minded governor of Jakarta, standing alongside his running mate, Jusuf Kalla, adding it had been "open, transparent and professional".

"This gives us the chance to prepare and plan our new government immediately."

He has already formed a "transition team" to help pick his Cabinet and formulate policy, and hopes are high that he can push through much-needed political and economic reforms to revitalise Southeast Asia's top economy.

The court's chief justice Hamdan Zoelva announced earlier that a panel of judges was rejecting the challenge from Prabowo, a top military figure in the Suharto era with a chequered rights record, a decision that was widely expected.

The verdict cannot be appealed.

A spokesman for Prabowo's team, Tantowi Yahya, said they "acknowledged the decision by the Constitutional Court" but added the decision "does not necessarily reflect truth and substantive justice for the Indonesian people".

The final day of the long election season was marked by drama -- as the judges started reading out their verdict, police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse thousands of Prabowo supporters trying to march on the court.

They had tried to climb over barbed wire barricades and drive trucks through them, prompting the police action that led to three people being injured and four arrested. However the streets of Jakarta were quiet late Thursday when the result was announced.

Tens of thousands of police and soldiers were deployed across Jakarta for the announcement.

Both Prabowo and Widodo declared victory at the July 9 election.

Official results released after a two-week count showed Widodo won a six-point victory after the hardest-fought election since authoritarian rule ended in 1998 -- but Prabowo refused to concede, claiming there had been widespread fraud.

Prabowo -- who has been seeking the presidency for a decade -- took the case to the Consitutional Court, which has the final say on election disputes.

His team alleged fraud occurred at tens of thousands of polling stations, and that election officials failed to order recounts in numerous places where they should have.

But evidence presented by Prabowo's team was unconvincing. One witness claimed to be a village girl from the mountains who supported Prabowo, only for it to emerge later she held a senior position with the ex-general's party in eastern Papua province.

During a seven-hour reading of their verdict Thursday, the nine-judge panel at the Constitutional Court rejected Prabowo's case step by step.

They said his claims of widespread fraud were not proven, and that there should not be a rerun of the vote in several areas as he had requested.

Legal challenges were also mounted after Indonesia's two previous direct presidential elections, in 2004 and 2009, and both failed.

There had been concerns about the Constitutional Court's impartiality after its former chief justice was jailed in June for accepting bribes to sway his rulings in regional election disputes.

But analysts thought the court would be desperate to appear clean following the scandal.

Prabowo had previously pledged to fight on even if he loses, telling supporters this week that "our struggle has just started". But observers believe he has no other realistic options left to challenge the result.

Asked what his team's next step would be, spokesman Yahya said they would not be a "destructive opposition". Some members of his team have previously pledged to push their programme while in opposition in parliament.

Several parties formed a coalition to back Prabowo at the election, but some are now expected to defect and join Widodo's government.