Indonesians upbeat despite competing claims of victory

Indonesians upbeat despite competing claims of victory

Indonesia is holding its breath until July 22 when the General Elections Commission announces the official results of the July 9 presidential election, as both tickets claim victory based on quick counts released just hours after polling stations were closed.

But there is also the possibility that Indonesians will have to wait longer to officially get their seventh president if the loser challenges the result in the Constitutional Court, which could take another month to reach a decision.

Most preliminary counts put former Jakarta governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo ahead of rival Prabowo Subianto by anywhere between four and seven percentage points. However, many observers believe the final tally will be closer.

In any case, the markets appear to be celebrating the fact that the long campaign came to a peaceful end in a country that was a dictatorship until just 16 years ago. A day after the election, the rupiah appreciated to 11,549 to the US dollar in a continuation of the positive trend evident over the previous two weeks, after it sank to as low as 12,200 in late June. The Jakarta Stock Exchange on Thursday jumped 2.8% to its highest level since May 2013.

Though generally peaceful, the election contest was not without its elements of drama and smear campaigns against presidential and vice-presidential candidates on both sides, as the fight for the votes of 188 million Indonesians intensified.

The choice came down former three-star general Prabowo and his running mate, former economic minister Hatta Rajasa, against Widodo and Jusuf Kalla, himself a vice president from 2004-09 under incumbent Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who could not seek a third term.

Quick-count results by various polling companies showed the Widodo-Kalla ticket leading by an average of four percentage points. Lingkaran Survey Indonesia (LSI) showed Widodo-Kalla with 53.37% of the votes to 46.63% for their rivals. The results were based on 2,000 polling stations selected through proportional multi-stage random sampling, out of 478,888 stations across the country.

President Yudhoyono, through his official Twitter account @SBYudhoyono, called on both camps to exercise restraint and not to celebrate claimed victory on the streets pending the official results.

Tom Power, an Indonesian political researcher at Australian National University, said the margins indicated by the surveys should be enough to show that Widodo has won the election, but disputes persist since some pollsters show Prabowo with the lead.

“In many countries, such a margin is considered valid enough to declare a victory,” Power told Asia Focus.

The ratings agency Standard and Poor’s said the outcome of the presidential election would have little impact on the country’s BB+ sovereign credit rating.

“We expect reform progress to be slow no matter who is elected. Any boost to policymaking and growth prospects is likely to be insufficient to strengthen the sovereign credit rating on Indonesia,” Standard & Poor’s credit analyst Agost Bernard said in a statement on July 9.

S&P also said that sovereign credit quality had improved steadily under the 10-year Yudhoyono presidency, thanks to political and macroeconomic stability.

“Basic macroeconomic policies are likely to prevail, supporting credit fundamentals. We expect both presidential candidates, Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto, to adhere to conservative fiscal and debt management if elected,” Bernard said.

Fitch Ratings said that neither camp’s ability could be judged when it comes to executing policy at the national level, as Widodo’s track record as governor of Jakarta did not offer much guide to broader policy priorities.

Widodo’s campaign relied heavily on his ability to project himself as an able administrator during his 18 months running the capital city, and before that as the mayor of the small Central Java town of Surakarta.

“In addition, he would have to work with a parliament in which supporters of his election opponent are currently in the majority – although coalitions may prove fluid if Jokowi’s victory is established,” Fitch Rating said in a statement on July 9.

The agency said that reform progress was likely to be slow, partly because the legislature would be much more fragmented, but Prabowo would have an easier time if he won as his coalition held up to 60% of the parliamentary seats.

Prabowo’s policy statements, meanwhile, suggest he has more statist and protectionist inclinations with his plan to renegotiate contracts with foreign companies to get Indonesia more favourable terms, and he views that the state should manage industries that affect large parts of the population.

“[These] are clear indicators of his basic philosophy about how the economy should be managed,” Fitch said. “This suggests major reforms to liberalise the economy or to improve the investment environment are not to be expected under his tenure. But much like Yudhoyono, he would likely manage the economy in a pragmatic manner and tackle less contentious reforms.”

Should Widodo win, the agency said what is most uncertain is whether he will be able to translate his huge popularity and grassroots appeal into an ability to govern a huge and diverse country.

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