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Widodo wins Indonesian presidential election

The reform-minded governor of Jakarta, Joko Widodo, was Tuesday (July 22) declared the winner of Indonesia's presidential election after a closely-fought race against a controversial ex-general with deep roots in the era of strongman Suharto.

JAKARTA: The reform-minded governor of Jakarta, Joko Widodo, was Tuesday (July 22) declared the winner of Indonesia's presidential election after a closely-fought race against a controversial ex-general with deep roots in the era of strongman Suharto.

As a grinning Widodo looked on, the election commission announced that he had beaten Prabowo Subianto by more than six percentage points in the fight to lead the world's third-biggest democracy.

The news came after a dramatic final day to the country's most divisive election period since the end of the Suharto era in 1998, with Prabowo angrily accusing Widodo's team of committing fraud and announcing his withdrawal from the presidential race. Both candidates claimed victory on the day of the July 9 election, despite reliable polling agencies predicting a win for Widodo.

Widodo's victory caps a meteoric rise for the former furniture exporter, who is seen as a break from the past and won legions of fans with his common touch during his time as Jakarta governor. It will be welcomed by investors who hope the 53-year-old can breathe new life into Southeast Asia's biggest economy, with is beset by slowing growth, creaking infrastructure and a corrupt bureaucracy. Markets had been jittery about a potential win for Prabowo, a figure from the old guard with a chequered human rights record.

After two weeks of tallying votes, the election commission announced late Tuesday that Widodo had beaten Prabowo by about 8.4 million votes. Social media lit up with comments congratulating the governor, nicknamed Jokowi. "Indonesia will be a better nation under Jokowi, God bless," wrote one Twitter user with the name Prettyinpink69.

Prabowo, who has admitted the abduction of democracy activists back in the 1990s and used to be married to one of Suharto's daughters, had been widely expected to challenge the result in the Constitutional Court if he lost. But, before the final results were made public, a spokesman for his team said this was no longer an option since they had withdrawn from the whole process. The decision removes the prospect of prolonged political deadlock because the court would not have ruled until the end of August.

DUAL ACCUSATIONS

Speaking to reporters earlier in Jakarta, Prabowo claimed there had been "a massive, structured and systematic fraud" in the 2014 elections. However independent analysts in the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation have said that the poll has been largely free and fair. It was not clear what Prabowo's next step might be following his defeat.

Tensions rose sharply after election day as each side accused the other of seeking to tamper with the votes during the lengthy counting process across the world's biggest archipelago nation.

There were fears the tension could spark unrest in a country that was hit by repeated outbreaks of violence before Suharto's downfall, and more than 250,000 police were deployed across the country on Tuesday. However by early evening there were no reports of major demonstrations or unrest.

Despite Prabowo's repeated accusations, the coalition backing him appeared to be falling apart in recent days, with several key members reportedly conceding defeat. Even President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono hinted Monday that the ex-general should accept the result if he loses, saying: "Conceding defeat is noble."

Widodo was the long-time favourite to become president. But a huge poll lead he held for months dwindled to single digits during the most divisive election campaign of Indonesia's short democratic era. Nevertheless unofficial tallies released by reliable polling agencies on election day showed him with a decisive lead, and the final results were in line with these counts.

The official results showed Widodo had received 53.15 per cent of the vote, with almost 71 million votes. This compared to 46.85 per cent of the vote for Prabowo, who received over 62 million votes.

Widodo won huge popularity when he was in charge of Jakarta, regularly making visits to the city's slums in casual clothes and introducing a series of policies aimed at helping the poor.

However some observers point out that it will be a far from easy task for the slighty-built, softly-spoken man who has no experience in national politics to run the sprawling archipelago. "Don't expect the Jokowi presidency to be smooth," said Marcus Mietzner, an Indonesia expert from the Australian National University.

Widodo will be inaugurated as president in October, when Yudhoyono steps down after a decade in power. 

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