Tension runs high in Indonesia ahead of poll result

Indonesian police are laying down barbed wire and preparing to deploy armoured trucks and water cannons for a massive security operation in Jakarta this week when the official results of last month’s presidential election are made public.

The national capital is on edge, and the US embassy has issued a security alert to avoid large demonstrations, following reports of the arrest of dozens of suspected Islamic extremists, who police say were plotting to launch attacks to disrupt the announcement of the disputed results. 

The outcome calculated by the General Election Commission is expected to confirm unofficial counts by private pollsters that give the incumbent, President Joko Widodo, 57, a ten percentage point lead over his main rival, Prabowo Subianto, 67, a nationalist former military general. 

However, Mr Prabowo has refused to concede defeat, alleging that incompetence and corruption have snatched victory from his hands.

Incumbent Joko Widodo is expected to be declared the winnerCredit:
Antara Foto/Reuters

He has warned that the accusations of “massive cheating” could trigger “people-power”-style protests and that he may consider legal action to contest the results. 

After the results are announced, the losing party may lodge a legal challenge at the constitutional court, otherwise the winner will be finally confirmed by May 28. 

History appears to be repeating itself in this year’s poll. In 2014, Mr Prabowo lost both the election and a legal appeal against a victory by Mr Widodo after the constitutional court ruled that he had failed to produce evidence of his claims of “massive, structured and systematic fraud.”

Independent observers maintain that April’s election was free and fair and the government and police have urged the protestors to remain peaceful. 

During a bitter election campaign, both candidates were criticised for courting conservative Islamic forces to build popular support. 

Mr Widodo, a moderate Muslim with a strong focus on slashing red tape and improving infrastructure, disappointed progressive supporters by choosing conservative Islamic cleric, Ma’ruf Amin, 76, as his running mate. 

Protestors stage a demonstration in support of Prabowo SubiantoCredit:
Goh Chai Hin/AFP

Mr Prabowo, a former special forces commander, rallied election crowds with nationalist rhetoric about protecting Indonesia from unspecified foreign powers, and was accused of cultivating ties with Islamist groups in his long-running quest for power. 

Fears are now rising that extremists may try to exploit political tensions to promote their own agenda and carry out attacks. 

Muhammad Iqbal, the Indonesian National Police spokesman, told reporters on Friday that police this month have arrested 29 suspects linked to Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) – the largest Islamic State-linked group in the country, reported Reuters. 

He said that at least five homemade bombs had been confiscated in various locations across Java and North Sulawesi, adding that some of the suspects had received paramilitary training and went to Syria as foreign fighters.

Heavily armed security officials are now standing guard outside the election commission, and the police and military have been ordered to prevent people from travelling en masse to Jakarta to join demonstrations. 

Indonesia’s biggest Islamic group, Nahdlatul Ulama, has also urged people to avoid rallies, stressing that it will not accommodate protestors unless they are gathering for prayers.  


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