Updated: 07/09/2014 22:10 | By Agence France-Presse

Indonesia's Prabowo, Widodo both claim victory in tight election race

Both sides claimed victory on Wednesday in Indonesia's tightest and most divisive presidential election since the end of authoritarian rule, as most unofficial tallies showed Jakarta governor Joko Widodo leading over ex-general Prabowo Subianto.


Indonesia's Prabowo, Widodo both claim victory in tight election race

Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto (centre) waves to supporters and the media as he arrives to vote at the village of Bojong Koneng in Bogor, West Java province, on July 9, 2014 - by Bay Ismoyo

The standoff in the hotly contested race to lead the world's third-biggest democracy prompted President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to call for restraint from both sides until official results are announced in two weeks' time.

Widodo, known by his nickname Jokowi, is the first serious presidential contender without roots in the era of dictator Suharto. He has won legions of fans due to his humble background and common touch.

His popularity was clear earlier in the day when hundreds of screaming supporters mobbed him and chanted his name as he voted in central Jakarta. 

Prabowo, in contrast, was head of the feared special forces under Suharto, admitted ordering the abduction of democracy activists before the dictator's downfall in 1998 and was formerly married to one of Suharto's daughters.

He has nevertheless won support by playing up his military background, in a country where many have a yearning for a strong leader.

As a series of unofficial tallies from reliable polling agencies started to show Widodo with a lead of four to five percentage points, the smiling Jakarta governor declared victory, flanked by members of his party.

- 'Victory for Indonesians' -

"This is a victory for all Indonesian people," the 53-year-old later told an evening rally of flag-waving supporters at a park in the capital. 

"History has been made -- this is a new chapter for Indonesia."

Shortly after Widodo's declaration of victory, however, Prabowo also claimed to have won.

The 62-year-old said polling agencies followed by his campaign team showed that he and running mate Hatta Rajasa "have received the support and mandate from the people of Indonesia".

Later Wednesday he delivered a fiery speech, pumping his fist in the air and urging people to wait for the official results to be announced and respect "official institutions".

"We will be patient, we will obey principle and law and try to be well-behaved," he said, during an appearance on a TV station owned by a wealthy tycoon supporter.

"But do not ever think that we are weak, do not ever think that we can be trampled."

The close race has sparked fears of unrest, and Yudhoyono urged both sides to "restrain themselves and not organise street rallies to celebrate until the announcement by the (election commission)".

The commission is not expected to announce the official results until July 22, due to the complexity of holding elections across the archipelago of more than 17,000 islands that spans three time zones. 

Widodo's party relied on around five unofficial tallies known as "quick counts", from reliable polling agencies that have accurately predicted the winners of Indonesian elections in the past.

Prabowo used three less well-known polling agencies, which gave him a lead of between one and three percentage points.

- New style of leadership -

Widodo, a former furniture exporter from a humble background, is seen as likely to usher in a new style of leadership more concerned with helping the poor and to consolidate democracy should he win the election.

Prabowo has faced criticism that he may shift Indonesia back towards authoritarian rule. In one recent talk, he reportedly said that a Western-style political system, including direct elections, "doesn't suit" Indonesia.

Some 190 million voters were eligible to cast ballots in the election. 

Polling went smoothly across the country, from eastern Papua to the main island of Java and jungle-clad Sumatra in the west, and no major disruptions were reported.

Widodo was ahead by a long way in the polls for months leading up to the election, but his lead shrank during the campaign as he was hit by a string of smears. 

The most damaging was a claim that he is an ethnic Chinese Christian and not a Muslim, a serious charge in the world's most populous Muslim-majority country. He vehemently denied the claim. 

Widodo shot to national prominence when he was elected Jakarta governor in 2012. He would make regular tours of the metropolis's sprawling slums in casual clothes and was often spotted at heavy metal concerts.

Yudhoyono steps down in October after a decade of stable but often indecisive rule. His successor, whoever it proves to be, faces a delicate transition.

Growth is slowing in Southeast Asia's top economy, corruption is rampant, millions remain mired in poverty, and fears are mounting that Islamic radicals returning from Middle East conflicts could revive militant networks.

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