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Indonesia elections: Prabowo Subianto claims victory

Published February 14, 2024last updated February 14, 2024

Independent pollsters show the current defense minister leading in the presidential election, with most of sample votes counted. Official results are not expected for several weeks.

Presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto casts his ballot at a polling station during the election in Bojong Koneng, Indonesia, Wednesday, February 14, 2024
Prabowo Subianto is Indonesia's defense ministerImage: Vincent Thian/AP Photo/picture alliance

Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto on Wednesday claimed victory in the Indonesian presidential election as unofficial tallies indicated that he and his running mate, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, were poised to win in a single round. 

"All counts, all pollsters... showed figures that Prabowo-Gibran won in one round. This victory should be a victory for all Indonesians," he told a crowd at an arena in central Jakarta.

"We believe Indonesian democracy is running well. The people have determined, the people have decided," he told supporters, while stressing that "we must still wait for KPU's official result," referring to the election commission.

Subianto has run a savvy social media campaign targeting Indonesia's youth that portrayed him as a "cuddly grandpa," and that strategy appears to have paid off.

The ex-general acknowledged the youth vote helped him win in a country where millennials and Gen-Zers make up more than half the electorate.

"I would like to say thanks to the young people, who are key supporters," he said in his speech, which he ended by dancing on stage in a nod to his image on TikTok.

In international reactions, the US State Department released a statement "congratulating the Indonesian people" on a "robust turnout" in the election.

Indonesia: Pollsters report Subianto lead

Independent pollster Litbang Kompas said that Subianto was leading with nearly 60% of the vote, based on over half of the votes counted at a sample of polling stations across the country. Two other pollsters, Poltracking and Cyrus Network-CSIS, also reported similar results.

His rivals, Anies Baswedan, the former governor of Jakarta, and Ganjar Pranowo from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, had around 25% and 16%, respectively, according to Kompas.

After the numbers were published, a spokesman for Ganjar said the politician's team had received reports of "structural, systematic and massive fraud" and was investigating them. Separately, Ganjar said he and his aides will "wait for election results."

Private pollsters count the votes at a sample of polling stations around the country. These are called "quick counts." In previous elections, counts by reputable pollsters have proven accurate. Official results are not expected for several weeks.

Subianto, who was a military chief during the Suharto dictatorship a generation ago, needs more than 50 percent of the overall vote and at least a fifth of ballots cast in over half the country's 38 provinces to secure the presidency.

The 72-year-old  who encouraged street protests and launched legal challenges after losing the previous two elections  thanked his supporters and called for unity.

"Now the campaign is over, we must unite again," he said.

Not that the legal challenges have deterred voters. "Finally, he wins after three times running for the presidency," Ida Yaya told Reuters news agency.He said he had voted for Subianto on every occasion since 2014 and had traveled for hours to attend the victory speech in Jakarta.

"I think everyone finally realizes that Prabowo is a good man and he deserves to be our president."

World's biggest single-day election

Polls have closed in Indonesia for the world's biggest single-day election that will see a new president succeed Joko Widodo, also known as President Jokowi. The voters are also deciding on new lawmakers and parliamentarians.

Voting took place across three times zones with polling stations opening at 7:00 a.m. (2200 GMT) in the easternmost region of Papua and closing at 01:00 p.m. (0600 GMT) at the other end of the country in jungle-clad Sumatra.

Thunderstorms caused flooding in some parts of the capital, Jakarta, with Reuters reporting that dozens of polling stations had been affected.

Who are the main contenders?

The race for the presidency has seen three main candidates emerge. According to opinion polls ahead of the vote, the man leading the race is Prabowo Subianto from the Gerindra Party, a former military commander who currently serves as the Minister of Defense.

Subianto's military service was a deciding factor for some voters.

"He has a military background, so I think he will be a decisive leader," said Afhary Firnanda, a 28-year-old office worker in Jakarta, for example.

Prabowo is up against Ganjar Pranowo from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle and Anies Baswedan, the former governor of Jakarta.

Indonesia is the world's third-largest democracy with around 205 million voters eligible to cast ballots.

What's at stake?

As Southeast Asia's largest economy, Indonesia has experienced stability and growth under Jokowi's leadership. All three presidential contenders have made similar promises to continue in that vein.

Probowo is the only candidate with ties to the era of Suharto dicatorship, a time marked by brutality and corruption. He was a special forces commander during that period and has been accused of human rights atrocities, which he strongly denies.

There have been concerns that a Probowo presidency could see a backslide towards Indonesia's authoritarian past.

Such changes would have ramifications beyond Indonesia, as Jakarta wields a significant diplomatic influence among its Southeast Asian neighbors and boasts strong trade relationships with China and the US.

kb, dh/dj (Reuters, AFP, AP)