Indonesia's Prabowo to challenge election result in court

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Jakarta (AFP) - The ex-general who lost Indonesia's presidential election to Joko Widodo will challenge the result in court, his campaign team said Wednesday, a move that could spell weeks of uncertainty for the world's third-biggest democracy.

But Prabowo Subianto's last-ditch bid to overturn the result did little to dampen the enthusiasm of Widodo's supporters, with thousands staging a noisy rally next to a Jakarta monument commemorating Indonesia's proclamation of independence in 1945.

Widodo, the reform-minded governor of Jakarta seen as a break from the autocratic era of dictator Suharto, was named the winner Tuesday after results showed he resoundingly defeated Prabowo, his only challenger.

Before the result was announced following a lengthy vote-tallying process, Prabowo -- a senior general during the Suharto era who has been dogged by allegations of human rights abuses -- angrily announced he was withdrawing from the election.

Prabowo, who had earlier claimed victory in the July 9 election, accused his opponent of cheating in the vote count.

On Wednesday a spokesman for the ex-general's team said he plans to contest the result at the Constitutional Court, with the challenge directed at the election commission for allegedly mishandling the count.

Analysts believe the poll was largely free and fair and do not expect a court challenge to succeed given the size of Widodo's victory -- he won by more than six percentage points, or about 8.4 million votes.

But the move nevertheless signals weeks of uncertainty ahead, as the court will likely only issue a ruling on August 21.

The challenge would be filed within three days, said Prabowo spokesman Tantowi Yahya, adding his side considered 21 million votes to be in dispute.

Prabowo's brother Hashim Djojohadikusumo, a wealthy businessman who has provided financial backing for the campaign, added: "We are looking for justice... we are expecting some fairness."

He also urged foreign leaders not to congratulate Widodo, saying that "the legal process has not ended yet".

Congratulations flooded in nevertheless, from US President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, as well as the leaders of neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia.

Obama called Widodo to congratulate him on his victory in "free and fair elections" and told him he "looks forward to meeting him at the earliest opportunity", the White House said.

- Widodo unperturbed -

Widodo seemed unperturbed by his rival's challenge and returned to his duties as Jakarta governor at city hall on Wednesday. He will not be inaugurated as president until October.

He said preparations for his new job were "in progress" and a special office to help with the transition had already been set up.

At the Jakarta rally, rock bands played to a crowd of about 3,000 of his supporters, who were waving banners using Widodo's nickname and reading "Jokowi: honest, man of the people".

As the sun set over the historic site, Widodo arrived to loud cheers from the crowd and thanked all the campaign volunteers "who have been working day and night" to secure victory.

"Please now get back to your lives, to your day jobs," he joked.

Newspapers welcomed his victory, with the major Indonesian-language paper Kompas showing a photo of a grinning Widodo alongside his running mate Jusuf Kalla, under the headline: "It's time to move together".

The words were from Widodo's victory speech delivered late Tuesday, in which he urged Indonesia to unite following the country's tightest and most divisive election since the downfall of Suharto in 1998.

A Constitutional Court official said that if Prabowo's team filed the appeal by Friday, then hearings would begin on August 6 and a ruling would be delivered on August 21.

There have been concerns about the court's impartiality after its former chief justice was jailed for life last month for accepting bribes in return for favourable rulings in local election disputes.

However analysts believe the institution will be desperate to appear clean following the scandal.

Widodo's victory capped a meteoric rise for the former furniture exporter who was born in a riverbank slum, and won legions of fans with his common touch during his time as Jakarta governor.

It was welcomed by investors on Wednesday, with Jakarta's benchmark stock index rising as much as one percent in morning trade. It closed up 0.2 percent, slightly subdued after Prabowo's team announced the court challenge.

Prabowo, who won support with his fiery nationalistic rhetoric, has admitted ordering the abduction of democracy activists in the Suharto era and was formerly married to one of the dictator's daughters.

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